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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

UFS makes history as a second researcher – Prof Melanie Walker – receives NRF A-rating
2014-12-03

Prof Melanie Walker
Photo: Sonia Small

Prof Melanie Walker, Senior Research Professor at the University of the Free State’s (UFS) Centre for Research on Higher Education and Development (CRHED) has received an A1 rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF). This rating acknowledges Prof Walker as a leading international researcher – her work unequivocally recognised by peers world-wide for its high quality and wide impact.

This is the first time in our institution’s history that two A-ratings are awarded simultaneously. Prof Maxim Finkelstein from the Department of Mathematical Statistics also recently received an A2-rating in Probability and Statistics from the NRF.

“Achieving this outstanding rating,” Prof Walker says, “is not just an individual achievement. I have had tremendous personal support and rich intellectual collaborations from wonderful colleagues on the way. The award also recognises the Rector’s project to build a dynamic research culture at UFS.”

Prof Walker has been researching and writing about issues in education and higher education for over 20 years. In particular she is interested in opportunities into, through and beyond education across dimensions of dis/advantage, and how higher education contributes to building a decent society by removing inequalities in its own policies and processes.

Through her focus on capacity building – around the common theme of higher education, human development and social justice – Prof Walker is developing a dynamic cohort of new-generation scholars. Her research group of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows is drawn from countries not only in Africa, but as far afield as Finland, India and Vietnam.

Her networks attract international scholars to the UFS, who contribute to research projects, engage graduate students, and add a considerable contribution to research at our university.

In addition, Prof Walker fulfils a host of roles, which includes:

• Tier One National Research Foundation (NRF) Chair in Higher Education and Human Development.
• Vice-President of the international Human Development and Capability Association (HDCA).
• Fellow of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf).
• Honorary professor, University of Nottingham, UK.

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