Live in JHB, lose three years of life

 

 

Some 13-million people live in Gauteng. Every single one of those people are breathing in air that is toxic, and is shortening their lives. For the four million people in Johannesburg, that air means people die three years earlier than they would if they were breathing Cape Town’s air.

Previous Mail & Guardian reports have shown that, for at least half of the time, the air in Johannesburg is unsafe. This is thanks to a mixture of dust blown into the city, exhaust fumes from the nearly five million cars in Gauteng, fires in homes, and pollution from small industries and power plants. All of this results in tiny particles in the air that people suck deep into their lungs. There they lodge and enter the blood vessels, breaking down tissue.

The exact human toll of this has been hard to pin down. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says 20 000 South Africans die each year because of air pollution. Eskom has said its pollution leads to 333 deaths a year. Other companies don’t share the effects of their polluting activities.

There has been little local research on where these deaths happen. But clues are contained in research published late last year by the Earth Policy Institute at the University of Chicago in the United States. Researchers there created an Air Quality Life Index, which calculates how many years people lose from living in polluted areas for their whole life.

Globally, they found that air pollution from particulate matter (a measure of the tiny, hair-width dust particles that float about in the air) is the single greatest threat to human life. On average, across the world, air pollution costs each person 1.8 years of their life.


Using pollution measurements from satellites, the researchers concluded that the air in Johannesburg is the worst in the country and costs people 3.23 years of their life. The second-worst place was Sedibeng district municipality, south of Johannesburg, which includes the area where hugely polluting industries such as Sasol and ArcelorMittal are based. People in Tshwane metro municipality, north of Johannesburg, lose 2.82 years of their life living in the city.

In Cape Town, the average air pollution was recorded at 10% of that in Johannesburg — with people, on average, not losing any years as a result of the cumulative effect of dirty air.

Government, through the environment department, has promised more action in priority air pollution areas such as the Vaal Triangle and Mpumalanga where Eskom runs 12 coal-fired power plants. But action in cities such as Johannesburg is stymied by little data on who is responsible for what pollution, and too few officials to fine polluters.

South Africa’s legal limits on particulate matter pollution also allow pollution levels to be at double the levels that the WHO says are safe for human health. And large industrial polluters, including Eskom, have been consistently given exemption from complying with even these unsafe levels.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Sipho Kings
Sipho Kings is the acting editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian

Related stories

Manage urban transformation to avoid infrastructure blockages

It is possible to urbanise without congestion and the attendant ills through emphasis on better institutions, writes Eddie Rakabe

Eskom cancels dodgy R100m tender linked to Mabuza’s niece

An internal investigation revealed ‘irregularities’ in the process of awarding the contract

Solar stuck where sun don’t shine: State spends R289m to store solar water heaters

The national solar water heater programme is set to take off once again this year, but meanwhile the government is spending millions on storing heaters that have yet to be installed

The Portfolio: Global Africa Lab

A project by Global Africa Lab explores the future of Black neighbourhoods affected by gentrification in New York City

Another reason why Eskom is the bull in the fiscal china shop

Although mismanagement and corruption play a role in the financial state of affairs at municipalities, it is not the only reason they are failing

Eskom must lead the energy shift

Any plans to change from coal-fired power to renewable and affordable electricity must include turning the power utility into a true public entity
Advertising

Shongweni stink: EnviroServ bosses back in court

Managers charged over landfill emissions want charges set aside

Jailed journalist a symbol of a disillusioned Zimbabwe

Hopewell Chin’ono backed President Emmerson Mnangagwa when he succeeded Robert Mugabe. Now he’s in jail

Covid-19 a ‘catalyst for closing the pay gap’

Executive directors earn 66 times the national minimum wage and are overwhelmingly white, a report by assurance, advisory and tax services company PwC has found
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday