“The air in South African cities is so bad it is comparable even to the mega-polluted cities of China,” environmental organisations Healthcare Without Harm (HCWH) and groundWork said in a joint statement.
Air pollution is a major threat to human life, accounting for one in eight deaths worldwide.
The database revealed that Johannesburg, in particular, has very poor air quality as a result of coal-fired power generation. This is exacerbated by poor environmental governance.
SA was among the countries that recognised the problem at the World Health Assembly in Geneva in Switzerland this week, paving the way for a resolution mandating more WHO engagement.
“The resolution is an important step forward in that it will raise consciousness in the health sector and empower the WHO to more robustly address the problem,” said Josh Karliner, global projects director at HCWH. “But it is only a small step at a time when we urgently need to take a giant leap to protect public health from both air pollution and climate change. Solar and wind power are increasingly cost-competitive with fossil fuels in today’s economy,” he added.
The environmental affairs department’s announcement in February that Eskom would be granted its request for “postponements” on compliance with minimum air emission standards for 14 coal-fired power stations would worsen the already dangerous air quality, Karliner said.
The department’s spokesperson Albi Modise said national averages of air pollution measurements indicated compliance but some areas persistently exceeded these. “Air quality management plans have been developed and are currently under implementation in those areas.”