THE Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Eugene Juwah, has declared that it is the responsibility of the government and relevant agencies to keep tabs on mobile infrastructure likely to cause health hazards through radiation. Speaking at the second West African conference on Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) Exposure and Health in Lagos last month, he stated: “Our various governments are taking account of the increases in radio frequency radiation emitted by more and more base stations, especially those installations erected in residential areas.”
He acknowledged that there had been concerns about the preponderance of telecom equipment around residential buildings and communities, given the bourgeoning mobile technology across the globe. He noted that information and communication technologies pervaded all aspects of modern living.
“Although the World Health Organisation studies are yet to find any clear risk or health hazards associated with electromagnetic fields based on current findings, as responsible regulators and governments, we need to constantly be on top of the game by keeping the citizenry informed and reassured as information becomes available regarding any health risks associated with electromagnetic fields, which need to be properly considered and reported during the rollout of new technologies as they become available,” Juwah said.
He said that research and studies by the WHO and other international bodies were inconclusive on the subject. However, the EVC noted that a number of regulations and standards specified the factors to be considered when deploying a base station, covering, among other things, the proximity of base stations to local communities and the means of measuring the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) of radio frequency electromagnetic fields emitted by mobile-telephony base stations.
According to him, in the absence of regulation, people have become more wary and may oppose the deployment of radio installations in their neighbourhoods. “That is why as a responsible regulator, in order to address the citizens’ concerns regarding exposure we ensure that our actions along with network operators are accompanied to the greatest possible extent by transparency and communication with citizens. This conference therefore is one of those important steps in this direction,” Juwah said.
The EVC’s concern was not misplaced after all, having used statistics to justify his argument. “In our country Nigeria, for instance, we now have a total number of 134 million connected lines and a tele-density of 96 per cent with about 29,000 base stations for both GSM and CDMA service providers as at December 2013. This is against a total estimated national requirement of about 70-80k BTS. The point being made by the EVC is that more and more such infrastructures must be put in place by operators to ensure seamless communications and improved Quality of Service in line with the regulator’s prescription.”
Though this challenge could have been mitigated by the deployment of wired lines, he said that the peculiar terrain of the Africa telecoms market had made it imperative for the deployment of wireless technology. “Although the need still exists for wired lines, wireless access has remained the more realistic and almost exclusively the only means of connection for us, given the challenges in our sub region associated with wired roll-out,” he noted.
Juwah stressed that in Nigeria, the NCC had the responsibility to ensure that there were guidelines and regulations governing all aspects of telecommunications service provision, including the installation of masts/towers and radio frequency exposure limits. He said that the Commission has adopted the ICNIRP standard for both public and occupational limit of EMF.
In order to give this standard the necessary legal backing, he noted that the NCC was working with the House of Representatives’ Committee on Science and Technology on the EMF Bill, which is based on the WHO Model of Legislation and ICNIRP standard.
In her keynote address, Nigeria’s Communications Technology Minister, Dr. Omobola Johnson, said that notwithstanding the gains of telecom revolution, “it is important that we are mindful also of the health of our people, both in the short and in the long term”. She said it was on this basis that the government had the conference since 2012 having been mindful of the concerns, which had been expressed both locally and internationally on whether exposure to electromagnetic fields posed any health hazards to humans; and determined to ensure that the people in West Africa were well advised as to the facts regarding the issue.