Dar es Salaam. A lot has been written and said about noise pollution, particularly in urban areas. In Tanzania, after a long silence on the social and health hazards due to the problem, tough legislation have been passed in a bid to punish noise makers.
According to the minister for Environment, Dr Binilith Mahenge, the National Environment Management Council (Nemc) will, in the next few days, embark on a move to educate the public on the new laws, which if breached would land the culprit in jail for two years or get a fine of Sh10 million or both.
The laws have come at a time when noise pollution has almost become the order of the day in certain neighbourhoods in cities and towns.
But before action can be taken against anyone accused of violating the noise pollution law, it will be important for authorities to design mechanisms of establishing the real cause behind the hearing loss in a person, whether it is due to too much noise or some other source.
Just last month when the World Health Organisation (WHO) raised an alarm on the rising cases of hearing loss attributed to noise pollution globally, The Citizen tried, but in vain, to statistically establish the magnitude of the hearing loss problem in Tanzania, and according to local experts who spoke to the paper, noise-related disorders were still largely unknown due to limited research.
This is apart from the disturbance that people in a certain location suffer due to the pounding music in the neighbourhood.
In its alarm, WHO revealed that about 43 million people aged 12-35 suffered from hearing loss worldwide. It warned that the prevalence was high among the youth due to unsafe use of personal audio devices and exposure to damaging levels of music.
“As they go about their daily lives doing what they enjoy, more and more young people are placing themselves at risk of hearing loss,” noted Dr Etienne Krug, WHO director for the department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention.
Although local statistics on the extent of the problem among Tanzanian youth or adults were hard to comeby, there is every indication that they are not spared—given the increased use of personal audio devices, including smartphones, and exposure to excessive levels of sound at noisy entertainment venues such as nightclubs, bars and sporting events.
The new standards, seem to focus on regulating, among other things, maximum volume in nightclubs and bars, public rallies, churches, mosques, industrial zones and even promotional road shows—but for those who damage their ears by using personal gadgets, the new law may not help them.
According to medical sources, people who have been exposing their ears to loud sounds can develop temporary hearing loss or tinnitus--a ringing sensation in the ear but when the exposure is more loud, regular or prolonged, the victim can also suffer permanent damage on his or her ear’s sensory cells.
The latest decision by the government to put into effect laws that will help control noise and vibration levels in cities, therefore comes in the light of a high demand for thorough research in the country on who exactly is gravely affected by the loud noise, when and where.
Much as the public may feel relieved by the passing of the laws, there is still a pressing for people who have had long exposure to loud noise, especially on private basis, to undergo audiometric tests at hospitals.
Public health researchers also need to establish people in the key areas affected, which are mostly in the urbanites, where dwellers have endured distress and agony caused by noise pollution for a long time.
More than a decade ago, before even the National Environment Act, 2004 came into being, there was an uproar among local researchers that certain groups of people in the country were at higher risk of acquiring hearing complications due to their kind of jobs—but not much was heard on the problem later after the crafting of the Act.
Studies done previously on the effect of loud noise and vibrations on people’s health in the country have therefore only focussed on specific groups—the industrial workers and some music employess in the cities, according to a specialist on hearing disorders, Dr Edwin Liyombo, from Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH).
Dr Edwin, who spoke to The Citizen on the day that the WHO released its findings on the global threat of noise-ralated hearing loss, noted that most victims with hearing impairment who report for check up, usually have a history of being exposed to loud noise but as he pointed out, “It’s usually difficult to trace the real source of the problem in the patients....”
It is important to note, however, that hearing loss can be attributed to various other causes apart from exposure to loud noise. Latest WHO statistics show that some 360 million people worldwide suffer from hearing loss due to genetic conditions and complications at birth.