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20 Mai 2021

Zelda Venter, IOL (South Africa)

S. Africa: UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and Environment admitted as amicus in landmark case to provide expert opinion on the adverse impacts of air pollution & the enjoyment of human rights

‘Air pollution in Mpumalanga Highveld ’is violation of people’s Constitutional rights’ 19 May 2021

Every day people living and working on the Mpumalanga Highveld are breathing toxic, polluted air that is harmful to their health and well-being. This is a violation of their Constitutional rights. This has been the argument this week in a virtual hearing before the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, in the so-called Deadly Air Case, brought by the environmental justice group Groundwork Trust and the Vukani Environmental Justice Alliance. The case concerns the toxic levels of ambient air pollution caused by coal-fired power generation projects in the Highveld priority area, situated in Mpumalanga. The environmental groups are asking for an order declaring that the levels of air pollution in the area are in breach of the constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to health or well-being.

Lawyers for Human Rights represents Professor David Boyd, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and Environment, has intervened as a friend of the court. He has been admitted in order to provide relevant evidence, based on expert opinion, on the adverse impacts of air pollution and the enjoyment of human rights. Boyd made submissions regarding international and regional human rights law and instruments, and emphasised to the court that poor and marginalised communities disproportionately shoulder the burden of toxic air. Community organisations advocate for clean air as they feel that the government's response in addressing this life-threatening situation has been insignificant.

…It said that according to Finland-based research organisation Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, South Africa – particularly the Mpumalanga Highveld – was one of the most polluted areas in the world. According to the organisation, approximately 4.5 million people who live in the Highveld Area are daily breathing toxic, polluted air that is adversely affecting their health and well-being. They want the government to enforce the law and ensure the people of the Highveld have access to clean air. These groups say that air pollution exacerbates a number of fatal diseases, and communities in this area remain at high risk of acute and chronic health effects due to long-term exposure to this polluted air. In addition, they say, air pollution increases fatalities due to Covid-19, as the community suffers from comorbidities caused by pollutants.