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04 June 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Charl Devenish
Prof Cathryn Tonne
Air pollution not only costs lives, it costs money too. Pictured is Prof Cathryn Tonne presenting a guest lecture on air pollution at the Bloemfontein Campus.

Health effects associated with ambient air pollution (AAP) have been well documented. Subsequently, the relationship between pollution and financial outcomes have also become a focus for case studies globally. An Environmental Research journal article revealed that “low and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected by the global burden of adverse health effects caused by AAP”. 

A high price to pay

In 2012, high concentrations of air pollution caused 7.4% of all deaths, costing South Africa up to 6% of its Gross Domestic Product. According to the recent International Growth Centre study conducted by senior University of Cape Town researchers, this is a direct consequence of the country’s heavy dependence of fossil fuels, a source of health-damaging air pollution and greenhouse pollutants.

Stunted human and economic growth

These South African statistics are attested to by Prof Cathryn Tonne who recently presented a guest lecture on air pollution which was hosted by the University of the Free State (UFS) Business School.

“Air pollution can affect economic development through several pathways, and health is an important one. Air pollution is linked to shorter life expectancy, chronic disease, asthma exacerbation and many other health outcomes that result in absenteeism from work and school. These have large direct costs to the health system.” 

Prof Tonne says that air pollution exposure in children is linked to reduced cognitive development, with important impacts on human capital. As a result, children are not reaching their full potential in terms of neurodevelopment, which has an effect on their income prospects and the economy as a whole. 

Resolving a looming disaster

Technology may be employed to radically clean the air. Cities need to lead in the reduction of air pollution by promoting renewable energy, using active transport such as walking or cycling, and investing in infrastructure to make this safe and attractive. 

With researchers playing a major role in strengthening the case for aggressive air pollution control, the government needs to implement policies in order to control sources of air pollution. This global health and economic issue also requires individuals and communities to play their part to improve air quality.

News Archive

Self-help building project helps to change lives
2017-12-15


 Description: Eco house read more Tags: Anita Venter, Start Living Green’, Earthship Biotecture Academy, construction skills 

Anita Venter, lecturer in the Centre for Development Support, with the residents of
the eco friendly house. Photo: Supplied

UFS PhD student Anita Venter did not know it in the beginning, but her doctoral research would eventually change her life and the lives of many others. 

The research was whether South Africa’s housing policies were socially and culturally responsive to grassroots reality in informal settlements. Venter agreed her research approach might have raised a few eye brows, but it was a journey she holds had more benefits than failures. 

Green living
For her case studies, Venter looked at ‘Start Living Green’ as a concept and further examined the implementation models of Earthship Biotecture Academy in New Mexico and Central America and the Long Way Home non-profit organisation in Guatemala. 

These groups train people with no specialised construction skills in applying and managing environmentally sound self-help building projects. Furthermore, their primary objectives were not building-related, but people-centred, with an advocacy role to create social, environmental and educational change through utilising the building technologies. 

It resulted in Venter signing up for a course in Guatemala to get the skills to implement her case studies here at home in Bloemfontein. 

An experimental mud, straw and waste material structure in her back yard grew into similar houses built in informal settlements, through the transfer of knowledge of indigenous building methods.  

Are rickety corrugated iron shacks only alternative?

Her case studies, one in Freedom Square in the Mangaung Metro Municipality, highlighted, among others, baffling tenure insecurities and “tangible conflicts” entrenched between Westernised and African perspectives on home ownership.

Venter says her thesis, in essence, did not oppose existing housing strategies but did challenge the applicability of an economically inclined model as the most appropriate housing option for millions of households living in informal settlements. 

The main findings of the case studies were that self-help building technologies and skills transfer could make a significant contribution to addressing housing shortages in the country; in particular in geographical locations such as the Free State province and other rural areas.

Venter’s own words after her academic endeavour are insightful: “These grassroots individuals’ courage to engage with me in unknown territories, gave me hope in humanity and inherent strength to keep on pursuing our vision of transforming informal settlements into evolving indigenous neighbourhoods of choice instead of only being living spaces of last resort.”

Positive results 
The study has had many positive results. The City of Cape Town is now looking at new innovative building technologies as a result. Most importantly Venter's study will open further discussions that necessarily challenge the status quo views in housing development. 

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