South Africa: World’s Worst Air is in South African Coal Community

Middelburg — Thirty-five-year-old Patrick Mdluli considered himself healthy until he moved two years ago to Mpumalanga province – South Africa’s coal mining heartland.

The area has the worst air quality in the world, according to a recent study by environmental group Greenpeace. The 12 large coal mines in this area make it the world’s hotspot for toxic nitrogen dioxide emissions.

Soon, Mdluli said, he began to develop health problems, including tuberculosis and nasal issues.

“The mines, the dust, pollution – you go to doctors, they tell you the very same thing,” he said. “‘Are you living next to a mine?’ Yes, I am. ‘Are you living next to a dumping site?’ Yes, I am.”

A large coal mine operates, literally, in Mdluli’s backyard. The mine has conducted blasts every day, shaking his small home to its foundation, filling the rooms with dust and causing a large crack in the wall. Residents in this impoverished area complain that their walls are crumbling because of the incessant blasts.

But the real damage is on the inside, says the head of one of Middelburg’s main clinics, Dr. Mohammed Tayob.

Tayob has lived in the area his entire life and says the emissions from the mines have made many of his patients sick. In his lifetime, he says, he’s seen a flurry of new mine openings in the area as the nation has tried to profit off its vast coal reserves.

“Children and adults are paying the ultimate price,” he told VOA.” When we say ultimate price, it’s the loss of neurocognitive development, children’s infant mortality rate is higher in our area than other areas, adults, heart attacks and respiratory diseases are much higher. So people are paying with their lives, across the board, because of these pollutants in the air.”

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