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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

Victory lies beyond the moment
2017-12-25


 Description: 2017 Victory lies beyond the moment Tags: 2017 Victory lies beyond the moment 

Mokoena learns a new skill at the Learning Festival arranged
by the Centre for Community Engagement.
Photo: Igno van Niekerk

For Mokoena it was just a regular day. Another day. Another rush. As a taxi driver you get used to the adrenaline, taking gaps, foot on the accelerator. Alert. Honking hooters. Angry drivers.

Then it came out of nowhere. A stroke. The one side of his body was going numb. What was happening? What about his job? His income? His life?

Fast-forward a few years.

I meet Mokoena at the Learning Festival arranged by the Centre for Community Engagement, in association with Bloemshelter on the University of the Free State’s Bloemfontein Campus. A reserved young man, Mokoena is busy at one of the stands where a range of people from rural communities come to learn new skills. At no cost. They then go back to teach the skills they learnt in their communities. Job creation, that’s the philosophy: as you develop, you need to develop others. 

When I talk to Karen Venter, Head of Service Learning at the Centre for Community Engagement, the stories are overwhelming. “There was the lady who attended 19 workshops in two days. She went back to her community, shared her knowledge and became an entrepreneur helping others take care of themselves.”

New skills
Mokoena is also here to acquire new skills. After his stroke he was told by occupational therapy students about a project that teaches you to build your own house with raw materials. He takes out his cellphone with a sense of pride. Scrolls through some pictures: “This is my house. I built it from all kinds of things, cow manure, bottles, clay, other people’s rubbish.” The pictures show a house in a neat environment. Solid. Proud. A lot of healing came with building the house. Karen explains: “The physical work he was doing, pushing a wheelbarrow and working, but more than that – the knowledge that he could take charge, make a difference, work on a dream – the healing power of a sense of purpose. He became stronger and more confident.”

Victory 
Mokoena walks back to the sewing workshop he was attending before sharing his story. The buzz continues inside the Equitas Building where artisans, entrepreneurs and UFS staff are sharing their skills. Sewing machines hum away and infrequent beeps sound from a table where an excited group of non-scientists have just completed the building of circuits. Faces light up with every beep. Hands raised. Fists clenched. Victory!

But the victory lies beyond the moment. It’s in the confidence, the learning, and the sharing that will be taking place when these people go back to their communities. Some will participate in research projects; others will benefit from curricular requirements leading students into distant communities, and others will be hosting workshops at the next Learning Festival. 

And there will be more great stories. Like Mokoena’s.

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