Water & Air Quality in Mpumalanga, South Africa

Oct. 29, 2019

Mpumalanga, South Africa is facing the consequences of coal production as air and water quality continues to threaten the community.

South African photojournalist Daylin Paul recently launched an exhibition in Johannesburg documenting the environmental impacts of South Africa's coal industry, according to the Peninsula Qatar.

"In Mpumalanga there is dust everywhere. The water is milky. The air is a smoggy brown and it burns your throat to breathe," said Paul. "People are sick with tuberculosis, asthma, diarrhea and headaches.” 

The country plans to boost electricity generation over the next decade with a mix of renewable energy and coal power, according to Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. Earlier this month, a number of generating units broke down, forcing power cuts for the first time in seven months.The impact of the broken generator units on water and wastewater facilities is not known at this time. If it’s anything like the recent power outages in California, however, water services will come to a halt unless there are backup generators available, or if there is water already in storage tanks. 

"Rights to clean water, air (and) land to farm and support their families are not being fulfilled. A big reason I am in London is because of the Extinction Rebellion (protests) taking place here," said Paul. The Extinction Rebellion is a global protest movement orchestrated by climate activists urging governments to take much swifter action against climate change, according to BBC.

A Greenpeace-funded study using NASA satellite data identified Mpumalanga as the second biggest sulphur dioxide emissions hotspot in the world.

Coal production accounts for more than 80% of South Africa’s power generation, reported CNBC.

“We are in fact in the midst of an airpocalypse. South Africa’s air is absolutely filthy, and data analysis consistently confirms this,” said Melita Steele, senior climate and energy campaign manager at Greenpeace Africa. “We simply cannot afford to waste any more time by delaying industry compliance with air quality legislation or the transition to renewable energy.” 

Many of the communities Paul photographed had been displaced by mining companies or forced to relocate after mine blasts damaged the conditions of their homes. Unemployed community members have been carrying out small-scale mining to extract and sell pieces of coal to survive, according to the Peninsula Qatar.

In June, the national government was taken to court by local environmental groups groundWork and Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action for failing to tackle the air pollution levels, reported Centre for Environmental Rights

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Cristina Tuser