South Africa

OUR BURNING PLANET

A green day: celebrating the right of everyone to clean air

A file photograph dated 15 October 2006 shows the sun setting over downtown Johannesburg, South Africa, in this view from the Carlton Centre, the tallest office block in Africa at 50 stories. WEPA/JON HRUSA

Mayor Herman Mashaba addressed Yeoville Primary School pupils at the Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo on 5 June, World Environment Day, on the importance of sustaining a clean environment and urged everyone to play their part in keeping the city green.

World Environment Day is celebrated by 143 countries across the world and this year’s theme was centred around the issue of air pollution, the effects of the quality of air people are exposed to and the impact on people’s health and general well-being.

Migration from rural centres in pursuit of employment and economic opportunities have resulted in the mushrooming of low-income dense informal settlements in and around the City of Johannesburg – plummeting the quality of air people are exposed to.

Executive Mayor Herman Mashaba said that the city considers access to clean air as a right that must be enjoyed by every resident in the city and citizens across the country.

The city has committed itself to continuously monitoring the quality of air, and in this regard, it operates a network of eight quality monitoring stations that are spread across the City of Johannesburg in located Alex, Orange Farm, Ivory Park, Jabavu in Soweto, Davidsonville, Delta Park, Diepsloot, and Buccleuch

He said that using information from the monitoring network the city can develop plans and strategise and improve the quality of air.

Once we discover that there is an intervention required, which we have from time to time in certain areas, especially informal settlements where there is no electricity, we attend to it. That is why I’ve increased and more than tripled the size of the investment in the electrification of those informal settlements while in the long term looking for permanent houses for them.”

He said that in the next financial year, the city is looking at developing a vehicle emissions control strategy which will assist to define and appropriate informed action to deal with emissions from transportation.

The city must also prepare itself for alternative fuels for vehicles, controls of diesel smoke as well as transitioning to electric vehicles,” he said.

Musa Mahlatji, deputy director of air quality management in the city said that what they have picked up from their assessment is that the air quality in the city is driven by fuel sources, household fossil fuel burning, mining, vehicles and the burning of waste.

But if you look at the pollutants that are problematic it is mainly your particulate matter and your sulphur dioxide.” This is from data retrieved between 2015 and 2016. Mahlatji said recent indicators show that air pollution in the city is stable.

Mashaba said that dealing with elevated levels of air pollution as a result of vehicle emissions and mine dust requires collaborative efforts from different sectors of society.

The city is engaging with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy to emphasise the control of dust and mining activities in our city. Environmental inspectors are working tirelessly with DRM to monitor dust complaints at household level” he said.

Cecilia Jenga, Head of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in South Africa also said that beating air pollution is an extremely urgent challenge we need to work together to address.

We are informed by WHO (World Health Organisation) that currently most of our cities here in South Africa, and particularly when you look at the rest of Africa the air pollution is above the expected rate,” she said.

Jenga said that UNEP is raising awareness on the global impacts of air pollution and have brought together governments from all over the world during the United Nations environment assembly to come up with a global strategy and plan to address this emerging crisis.

Nonhlanhla Matrose, environmental education officer for Pikitup educates and delivers awareness in schools and communities around Johannesburg. “As you can see our city is very dirty, so we are making sure people start to practise separation at the source which is recycling. We need to separate waste because are running out of land field sites, we are only left with four land sites as the City of Johannesburg so if we separate waste, we can divert it away from land fields” she said.

Natanya Botha, head of membership for the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (WESSA), said they are focused more on education for sustainable development goals, as they are their pathway to creating a better world for all. “To educate the children today we have done air pollution and sustainable development goals activities. We have also done it through arts where the child had an opportunity to paint their voice on to a canvas,” she said. DM

Data for the City of Johannesburg Centre can be found on the South African Air Quality Information System (SAAQIS)

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