Published in the Namib Times, 1 March 2013.
By Marcia Stanton
Stop. Breathe. Think about what it is that is going through your nose- the life force that is air. The air provides a critical balance of what we all need to survive- humans, plants and animals alike. There’s nothing like a refreshing sea breeze on a hot summer’s day... but what happens when that breeze is tainted with something that makes us sick? This is what we call air pollution.
Air pollution is often invisible or without a trace of scent. The presence of chemicals in the atmosphere in quantities that are harmful to human health or the environment is what we call air pollution. It is caused by mining, waste, manufacturing and using chemicals, and burning fossil fuels for energy (coal, petroleum), among others.
Air pollution is not good for us. It causes cancer, asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, allergies, birth defects, heart and respiratory disease, brain and kidney damage, and heavy metal poisoning. The World Health Organization estimates that air pollution causes 2.3 million premature deaths worldwide per year.
Animals and plants also face disease and death along with the inability to reproduce. Air pollution leads to pollution of the water and land. A very clear example of air pollution comes from Germany, where it took less than 10 years for air pollution to cause over half of the trees in western Germany to die in the 1980s.
For those that are concerned with the economy, let’s look at the example of the United States. It’s estimated that in the United States alone, health care and lost work productivity costs US$150 billion per year directly due to air pollution. The damage to crops from air pollution causes a loss to agriculture of US$5.4 billion per year. Damage to materials such as cars and buildings is estimated at US$5 billion per year. This is just one country. In China, it’s estimated that air pollution alone causes US$112 billion in GDP loss. Yet we are inviting this country to do business in Namibia.
Simply because Namibia has a low population and plenty of open space doesn’t make it less susceptible to pollution. Our neighbour Botswana is similar in many ways and has ranked as the second most polluted country in the world in terms of air pollution according to the World Health Organization – mining being the main source of pollution there.
It’s time to rethink what we are doing to the air- that invisible substance which we cannot live without for more than 3 minutes. Air pollution is not something which we can sustainably live with. Today, air pollution is one of the top ten causes of premature death worldwide. Surely this should be enough to wake us up to take a different course away from that which causes pollution. Let us be responsible and not taint the air we share or leave poison in the wind for the next generation to breathe. Let us look for ways to sustainably live with the earth.