In a virtual meeting, the Select Committee was briefed by the South African Weather Services (SAWS) on air quality monitoring and forecast. Also present was the Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment & Tourism to also discuss the matter of provincial air quality monitoring and enforcement.
During discussion, Members asked about collaboration between the spheres of government, measures to ensure air quality, the work SAWS was doing on covid19 forecasting and weather reporting. Further questions probed compliance, educating communities on air quality, the accuracy of information and the impact on health.
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SA Weather Service (SAWS) Atmospheric Composition Research
The Committee was taken through the presentation – see attached for detils
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Responses to questions posed by Members
Mr Ishaam Abader, SAWS CEO, replied to the question about the measures to ensure air quality – he said SAWS assists in some cases with the monitoring of air quality. The National Department deals with the function and legislation of the air quality procedures.
He replied to Ms W Ngwenya’s (ANC, Gauteng) question on SAWS collaborating with local government to measure air pollutants - the presentation indicated how SAWS planned to assist local government in monitoring air pollutants.
He replied to the question about SAWS measurements against Covid-19 noting that SAWS implemented the integrated relative health risk measurement. This measurement contributes to the analysis of where the spread of the virus is likely to occur in South Africa. This will enable local and provincial government to identify the areas and focus its resources in the identified areas. SAWS assisted government to prepare for the pandemic.
He replied to the questions about the reporting of the weather saying that SAWS provides the information to different channels. Weather is still broadcasted on the traditional TV channels but there is more engagement of the SAWS app and various social media platforms. There is not a reduction in the broadcasting of the weather. SAWS is looking to increase the broadcasting of the weather on different platforms. To increase the production of the weather, SAWS created impact-based forecasting (IBF). IBF targets the impact of the weather in specific communities. To reach a wider audience, SAWS have translated the weather into indigenous languages. The technical terms of the weather will be understood if it is in all the official languages. He indicated that there are several weather monitoring stations in South Africa. The Committee will be afforded this information about the number and the monitoring stations.
Responses by the Limpopo Department of Economic Development Environment and Tourism (LEDET)
Ms Kele Tlouane, DDG: Environment and Tourism, LEDET, replied to the question about the relationship between LEDET and local municipalities to enforce environmental regulations. The MEC and the MMC responsible for environmental issues in the province has established a forum. The forum meets on a quarterly basis to discuss issues of air quality. According to legislation, there are mandates that local government has to implement.
She replied to the concerns about compliance issues noting they are being addressed by the forum because it is political. The enforcement and compliant divisions are working closely with officials at the district level. The Department has deployed environmental specialists in districts to ensure that the enforcement and compliance regulations are implemented.
She replied to the question regarding education around air quality noting the Department does have a directorate for environmental education and empowerment services (EEES) which placed officials at a district level. The officials conduct capacity building and initiatives for different sectors in the form of traditional leaders of communities. The EEES conducts initiative to raise awareness in schools about health and environmental issues. The Limpopo Green Schools Programme (LGSP), in collaboration with the Department of Education, is conducted in schools across different districts. The National Department of Environmental Affairs assisted in initiating the project. The LGSP is also suitable for children with special needs in schools.
A representative of LEDET replied to the question about the accuracy of information from mines noting that the mines conduct internal monitoring assessments. The monitoring is done by independent consultants and the mines cover the costs. The data that is collected gets admitted to laboratories. The data that is recorded is verified and reliable because the accuracy is checked at sample stage and when it reaches the laboratories. She replied to the question about mines that are not compliant with regulations noting that the Department of Mineral Resources deals with this issue. She said that air quality specialists are concerned with the number of green-house gas (GHG) emissions that are released into the air. Specialists will recommend what can be done to reduce emissions.
Mr Mafu Nkosi, Chief Director: Environmental Trade and Protection, LEDET, replied to the question about people who contract diseases due to air pollutants noting that there are certain districts that are exposed to petroleum products. The Department did not receive any incidents of people having contracted diseases. The Department is aware of the air pollutants being released from mines because the Department is working with officials in the mine sector. The mines are following the health and safety regulations before any compensation can be made. The Department is working closely with mines because it is aware of the high-level political forum. The department also has an air quality forum and a green scorpion initiative. The partnership is continuing and the forums meet on a quarterly basis, as indicated by Ms Tlouane.
Responses by the South African Weather Services (SAWS) continued
Dr Melaku Yigiletu, Senior Scientist: Air Quality Monitoring, SAWS, replied on the measurements to address air pollution noting that a number of monitoring stations report to SAWS - this is the main activity and in the presentation, the stations are highlighted in different colours because of how hazardous it is. To address the air quality control, it is measured in the health quality index and distributed to the public. This helps people to combat and limit exposure to air pollutant activities. SAWS aims to assist government to achieve the good health and well-being of society. The most important step to address poor air quality is the quantifying of emissions. SAWS is conducting a long term climatological emission analysis (CEA). The CEA does not only combat poor air quality but forms part of the national atmospheric emission inventory system (NAEIS). The NAEIS is sponsored by the Department and helps SAWS to access the country’s climate actions. Open-Fire is a very important emission resource for Southern Africa because it contributes to 21% of global fire. Quantifying emissions will not be reported if SAWS does not have the technology. SAWS has established satellite monitoring systems (SMS) that are linked with a complex bio-chemical modal. The SMS estimates emissions from fire incidents. The system is important for ecological assessments, fire management, emission and evaluation strategies and climate actions. SAWS picks up emissions that are released from plants which enables SAWS to address air quality. Water passing through from desert areas to the Indian Ocean also contributes to poor air quality but the system monitors this. SAWS is currently finalising the poor air quality forecasting system which will inform the public about the air quality to limit exposure.
He said that SAWS did collaborate with local government. SAWS has developed a unique tool to assist Mpumalanga with its GHG emission, called business as usual which reduces emissions from different sectors. Reducing emission from 5% to 10% in different sectors will help improve air quality, to make scientific and cost-effective based decisions. ESKOM was pleased with the tool that SAWS developed to reduce its emissions and limit the community’s exposure to air pollutants. It urged households to not burn coal and replace this form of energy with gas.
He replied to the question about the impact on health by referring to the presentation that SAWS has quantified it and the bias - based on observation is almost zero. The study of the impact of air pollutants is almost completed in high resolution and is categorised by age and gender. The study addresses all the diseases that might be caused by air pollution.
He replied to the question about the Covid-19 pandemic noting that SAWS did assist by identifying possible hotspots by creating a product determining the long term exposure to the virus. (Due to poor connection, a few of Dr Yigiletu’s comments were not captured). SAWS is currently developing a tool to acclimatise GHG emissions.
A Committee Member asked for clarity on the relationship between the LEDET and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE). She asked what the penalties are that mining companies face in relation to air pollution. The two departments must work together because it appears that they do not share information about mining companies. She asked for the Department to clarify the compensation of communities that contract diseases caused by air pollution.
The Chairperson asked SAWS to clarify the high risk and air quality concerns in its presentation about certain municipalities. She then asked SAWS what it is doing to generate high information resolution. She asked how SAWS planned to inform and prepare South African communities to adapt to climate change.
Responses by the South African Weather Services (SAWS)
Mr Abader replied to the question about compensation saying legally, it is difficult to determine who is responsible for air pollution. There are different anthropogenic causes of air pollution and there are many factors to consider. Agriculture, mining or industrial emissions can cause air pollution and because of the movement of air, it is difficult to link it to the disease the individual has contracted. There can be a direct and indirect cause of the disease.
He replied to the Chairperson’s question about high resolute information noting that SAWS has enabled various monitoring stations to collect data. The LEDET makes use of this information that is collected. He then replied to the Chairperson’s question about climate change noting that the presentation covered the initiatives that SAWS planned to implement. The IBF will ensure that communities are aware of extreme weather conditions. To ensure that the communities receive this information, it will be broadcasted in a variety of languages.
Dr Yigiletu replied to the Chairperson’s question that information is high resolution. The presentation indicates high-risk areas and the area will indicate more Covid-19 cases as time goes on. After the high resolution areas are assessed, mass screening is conducted in those areas. SAWS assesses at provincial and district level. The assessment is conducted in relation to areas where there is poverty. SAWS does this so that the district Covid-19 response teams focuses its resources in the identified areas. The assessment is also done in correlation to the number of health facilities available in the identified areas of high risk.
The Chairperson thanked the provincial Department for assisting the Committee in its visit. She thanked SAWS for its responses and highlighting key issues the Committee was not aware of.
Mr J Nyambi (ANC, Mpumalanga) thanked the Committee, Department and the SAWS for the oversight work done. When the Committee returns to Cape Town it will know what urgent issues to tackle.
The meeting was adjourned.
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