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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

Economic students taken outside comfort zone
2010-08-13

At the recent launch of the annual competition for third-year Economics students were, from left: Deon Beck, Vincent Ramorara and Limakatso Majoro.
Photo: Stephen Collett

The Research Cluster on Sustainable Development and the Department of Economics at the University of the Free State (UFS) recently launched an annual competition for third-year Economics students. This interdisciplinary competition, called “Economics at the grassroots”, is led by Prof. Doreen Atkinson, the Cluster Coordinator and Dr Karen Thomas, a Senior Lecturer of Economics in the Department of Economics.

Students were randomly divided into groups by Dr Thomas. As part of an ice-breaker exercise, the groups had to answer ten questions, which ranged from “What is the Rector of the UFS's second name?” to “What is the currency of Honduras and what is the value of it in Rands?”

According to Prof. Atkinson, this type of competition unleashes a new wave of creativity, as students work together on practical problems, which take the students outside their comfort zone.

The top three groups will win cash prizes, sponsored by the Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut (AHI) and Sanlam.

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