Johannesburg Can't Compromise On Air Pollution

Johannesburg Mayor: We Can't Compromise On Air Pollution
HuffPost Illustration

In South Africa, air pollution is more severe in urban areas, and the city of Johannesburg is no exception.

The majority of our country’s population migrates to the cities from rural areas for economic reasons, attracted by employment opportunities available in the urban centers. This results in the mushrooming of dense, low-income, informal settlements –– which are mostly under-resourced and do not have access to basic amenities, including electricity supply.

The city completed a baseline assessment of its air quality, which identified that the city’s air pollution emanates from domestic fuel burning, vehicle emissions, industries, biomass burning and mine storage facilities.

The city has a network of nine ambient air-quality monitoring stations that include stations in Alexandra, Ivory Park, Diepsloot, Jabavu, Orange Farm, Buccleuch, Davidsonville, Delta Park and Newtown. Seven of the stations are in residential areas, and two are traffic-emission stations. The data from these monitoring stations is compared to the national applicable standards, which are set to protect the public’s health and well-being.

Unfortunately, the city’s poorest communities often bear the brunt of higher levels of poor air quality. Over time, the monitoring stations located in the city’s residential areas have observed record pollution levels higher than the national standard, especially during the cold winter months, when most people still use fossil fuel for heating.

It is the city of Johannesburg’s priority to improve the city’s air quality –– to ensure pro-poor development that addresses inequality and poverty, and provides meaningful redress. Unfortunately, air pollution affects more of our poor communities in the city because of inequality and years of poor infrastructure planning.

Johannesburg's approach to dealing with air pollution involves programs that respond to specific pollution sources.
Johannesburg's approach to dealing with air pollution involves programs that respond to specific pollution sources.
VW Pics via Getty Images

To improve the city’s air quality, we have completed a review of our air quality management plan and our air pollution control bylaws. The plan provides the city’s vision and goals for the next five years. A regulatory framework has been developed to manage other sources of air pollution in the city. The two documents are in the final stage of completion, and public consultations will take place prior to their finalization.

In terms of the national Air Quality Act 39 of 2004, the city is responsible for air quality management ― both in terms of regulations and compliance enforcement. In terms of the city’s regulatory function, all the industrial activities that are identified in the act as significant emitters that contribute to poor air quality are licensed, and a total of 37 such facilities exist in the city. These facilities are issued with atmospheric emission licenses, which set out emission limits that are regularly monitored for compliance. Those that are found to be noncompliant are subject to enforcement actions.

The interventions that deal with emissions from domestic fuel burning are complex and require a multifaceted approach. Materials used for domestic fuel are often not by choice, since in many cases people don’t have access to electricity –– and even when it is available, they can’t afford it.

To mitigate against this, the city has prioritized the upgrade of informal settlements, which includes the provision of electricity and other amenities for those registered on the city’s indigent register. The interventions are aimed at improving our communities, while simultaneously improving the quality of air. Additionally, the city has allocated budget for new housing units that are insulated and require less energy for interior heating, and are fitted with solar water heaters.

The city’s approach to dealing with air pollution involves programs that respond to specific pollution sources. Small industries and vehicles are included in our draft bylaws to ensure control, and they set out appropriate operational conditions to ensure the reduction of emissions in these sectors over time. These measures include permits and the creation of smoke-free zones in an attempt to reduce the city’s air pollution. The city is also collaborating with other spheres of government to deal with issues such as dust from mine storage facilities.

Domestic waste burning is a result of illegal waste dumping. Although the city has various programs and interventions to resolve illegal dumping, our most significant intervention is the city-wide A Re Sebetseng monthly cleanup campaign. This monthly campaign is a ward-based cleaning initiative on the last Saturday of every month that encourages residents and communities to reduce their communal carbon footprint.

The project enhances the city’s investment of 50 million rand into Pikitup for a third cleaning shift within the city. This investment is expected to grow to 82 million rand in the medium term. A Re Sebetseng is modeled on the Rwanda Umuganda, which is also a monthly campaign where all residents come together to clean Kigali. Through this campaign, the city of Kigali is now known as the cleanest city in Africa.

The city of Johannesburg held their first city-wide cleanup campaign on September 30th.
The city of Johannesburg held their first city-wide cleanup campaign on September 30th.
City of Joburg

On Sept. 30, Johannesburg held its first city-wide cleanup campaign supported by councilors and ward committees and businesses. Plastic bags and gloves were distributed at walk-in centers, clinics, libraries and participating businesses.

As part of the A Re Sebetseng campaign, Pikitup will also initiate a program of engaging with schools and private stakeholders to involve learners in preserving the environment for their future. We believe the reduction of illegal dumping contributes to a reduced level of waste burning, which will improve air quality.

The A Re Sebetseng campaign is the city’s initiative to make residents more environmentally aware, and a conscientious intervention to create behavioral change and an environment in which people police their own interactions with their natural environment.

Furthermore, the city is further prioritizing the monitoring air pollution by reviving the monitoring network, which involves financing both the procurement of new monitoring instruments and facilitating adequate maintenance, to ensure that the monitoring stations are in optimal operational condition. The monitoring stations’ data is used for planning and decision-making, and assists in identifying those areas that experience poor air quality and the related sources that contribute to the poor state of air.

It is incumbent on the city of Johannesburg to be uncompromising on our air quality, since in addition to our political and social responsibility, we are compelled to ensure we take the guardianship of our planet seriously. Successful protection of our natural world is our legacy to future generations.

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