1998 Goldman Prize winner Bobby Peek and his team at groundWork recently released a report exposing egregious air pollution violations and a resulting human health crisis being created by South Africa’s major energy utility, Eskom.
Eskom provides 95% of South Africa’s energy, 90% of which comes from coal. Most of the production and processing of this coal happens in the economically depressed Highveld region, home to 12 of Eskom’s coal-fired power plants, hundreds of mines and some of the worst air quality in the world.
The people who live in the Highveld region are being unfairly burdened by pollution from these plants, shouldering 79% of annual emissions from electricity generated for the enitre country. Incongruously, many of the people living in Highveld are too poor to pay for electricity, instead burning coal or wood in their homes- compounding their health risks.
South Africa’s air quality standards are already weaker than the World Health Organization’s recommended guidelines. On top of that, the standards that are in place are routinely ignored – putting the health and wellbeing of communities at even greater risk.
groundWork’s report shows that in the Highveld region, Eskom’s coal-fired power plants were responsible for 51% of mortalities due to respiratory illnesses and 54% of deaths due to cardiovascular diseases caused by outdoor air pollution.
“It’s a common reality that the young suffer, and the aged suffer. But the young of today are the adults of tomorrow, and so we’re creating a sick population in Mpumalanga, because the children that are sick today because of the air pollution from Eskom… they don’t grow to the potential they have, and as a result, we can say that the entire population is vulnerable, because sick children become sick adults,” said Peek.
According to groundWork’s website, “Eskom has applied for ‘rolling postponements’ – which amount to exemption – for 14 of its coal-fired power stations, claiming that to implement pollution abatement technology across its fleet would cost up to R200 billion. Most recent studies show that the cost to the State’s public health budget for illnesses related to coal combustion equals a similar amount of R230 billion.
GroundWork, together with Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, are calling for the Department of Environmental Affairs to fulfil its constitutional mandate to ensure every South African lives in an environment not harmful to their health and well-being, and to reject Eskom’s applications.”