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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

SA cannot sustain momentum - Boesak
2010-09-02

Photo: Stephen Collett

South Africa finds it increasingly difficult to live up to the challenges facing it as a nation because of its failure to meet its democratic ideals and possibilities, peace and lack of self-belief.

This was according to renowned cleric and former political activist, Dr Allan Boesak, who recently delivered the CR Swart Memorial Lecture, the oldest memorial lecture at the University of the Free State (UFS). His lecture was on the topic Creating moments, sustaining momentum.

He said South Africa had plenty of opportunities to show the whole world what was possible if all the people of this country joined hands and worked together to build a truly united society. However, he said, the country somehow invariably contrived to find its way out of these wonderful possibilities.

He cited events of historical significance like Codesa, the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as the first democratic president of South Africa, the assassination of South African Communist Party leader, Chris Hani; and the rugby and soccer world cups.
To drive his point home about this dismal failure of the country to “sustain momentum”, he alluded to the current public servants’ strike that is gradually crippling public service.

“The public servants’ strike was neither unexpected nor is it completely unjustifiable. Most of us have understanding for the frustration of teachers and health workers. Their demands resonate with most of us, and I think that it is scandalous of SACP fat cats to tell workers to “stop crying like babies,” he said.

He also added to the criticism of the much-maligned decision of the government to spend billions of taxpayers’ money to purchase weapons when there was “no discernible military threat” to the country. He said the greatest threat to the security of the country was poverty, inequality and social cohesion.

“As for the argument that arms sales bring in foreign exchange – how can we be instrumental in killing the poor elsewhere with the intention of feeding our poor, and then our ill-gained profits feed only the already well-fed?” he asked.
“Can we see the hopeless contradiction, the total impossibility of being both the apostle of peace and a merchant of death?”

He also lambasted the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) policy of the government which he said benefited only those connected to the political aristocracy.

“It couples with the unashamed, in-your-face display of wealth by the privileged elite in this country, the crass materialism of the so-called “bling generation”, and the casual carelessness with which promises to the poor are given and treated. It is only the public symptom of the deep-seated scorn our political elites feel for the poor,” he said.

He said the government’s disdain to the poor was “setting fire to our future”.

“The anger of people on the ground can no longer be denied or ignored, and little by little, the leadership articulating and directing this anger is being estranged from politically elected leadership, and even more disturbing, from our democratic processes,” he said.

He concluded that the country’s difficulty in dealing with race and racism was putting the reconciliation process kick-started by Mandela just over a decade ago, under a threat.
 

 

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