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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

Increase in external research funding is proof of confidence in UFS
2014-12-09

The university’s sourcing of research funding from external organisations has received a significant boost this year. The growth in financing received from the National Research Foundation (NRF) alone increased from R24 million in 2013 to over R50 million in 2014.

“Because tertiary institutions can no longer survive on state subsidies alone, they are increasingly looking at alternative ways of supplementing their income. Income from these sources is utilised for various programmes and projects, with strong emphasis on research,” says Dr Glen Taylor, Senior Director: Research Development at the University of the Free State (UFS).

A source which provided considerable income for the UFS was the presentation of short learning programmes. The growth in income for the learning programmes this year was more than 30% compared to the income in 2012. “Income from short learning programmes is used to support the core business of the UFS,” says Dr Taylor.

A number of major research contracts were entered into during the course of the year. The UFS, for example, serves as an agency for a research contract of USD$10.5 million awarded by the World Bank to the Southern African Development Corporation (SADC). The contract is managed by the Institute for Groundwater Studies (IGS) and involves research on the management and formation of policies on underground water sources across boundaries.

Another substantial grant is the financing received from the Water Research Commission. The money is used to conduct research on the sustainable utilisation of water, as well as ways for the better utilisation thereof for the development of communities. The grant to the UFS for successful projects amounts to R5.5 million on average per year.

The UFS also has contracts with national and international partners. We conduct research of more than R30 million on the behalf of several mining companies, such as Anglo American, BHP Billiton, Exxaro and Goldfields Ltd. “Furthermore, we also have research funding from the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the USA, the European Union and several bilateral research agreements with countries such as Brazil, China and India, as well as contracts with Sasol and the Agricultural Research Council (ARC),” says Dr Taylor.

“We have tremendous interest from several companies wishing to finance the programmes, projects and intellectual property of the UFS, which is proof that our research is recognised and makes a difference,” he says.

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