Air pollution: Namibia ‘skating on thin ice’

Toxic gases pose serious health hazards

18 November 2021 | Environment

The unregulated production of charcoal poses a serious health hazard to farmworkers who are exposed to life-threatening emissions without any recourse in sight, Auditor-General (AG) Junias Kandjeke says.

Kandjeke made these findings in his latest performance audit report on air quality monitoring in Namibia within the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET).

Tabled in the National Assembly, Kandjeke’s report covers the financial years 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2016/17.

The 100-page dossier lays bare how Namibia is skating on thin ice as far as air pollution is concerned and how ordinary people such as farmworkers are exposed to radiation sources that pose lifetime health risks to workers.

At the heart of his finding lies charcoal production.

Worse according to Kandjeke, is that MET’s forestry directorate conducts little or no regular inspection as planned to ensure that workers are protected. “As a result, the [12] Commercial Charcoal Producing Farms’ (CCPFs) unsustainably harvested trees to produce the charcoal,” he said.

Kandjeke paints a bleak picture of the treatment of charcoal farmworkers. “All CCPFs did not provide evidence that pre and post medical examination was collected to determine the health status of workers i.e. respiratory work inhaling, smoke at kilns burning charcoal,” he said.

To mitigate this, he said, “The directorate of forestry should enforce harvesting license conditions of commercial charcoal producing farms in accordance with section 29 of the regulations of the Forest Act to ensure that the workers are protected from excessive smoke emissions.”

Locos also sinners

Troubled national rail entity TransNamib has also been fingered in the report over its failure to conduct adequate locative examinations risking locomotives emitting hazardous substances.

TransNamib does not have a contingency plan on the use and replacement of locomotives. Some of its trains are older than 30 years and emit harmful hazardous substances in the air posing a hazard to public health.

Kandjeke goes on: “TransNamib should ensure that they conduct locomotive examinations before operating a locomotive on the railroad.”

The rail operator does also not ensure timely re-ordering of key spare parts such as oil filters that prevent gas emissions from trains.

Finger pointed to Health

The AG pins blame squarely on MET and its stakeholders for failing to put control measures in place to ensure that the general public is not exposed to unregulated excessive greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere.

MET and its stakeholders (including the health ministry) also failed to deploy effective measures to regulate imports, sales and public smoking of tobacco products in Namibia to ensure that the public is not exposed to second-hand tobacco products which pose health risks and simultaneously contribute to environmental pollution.

“The Radiation Protection Authority did not provide sufficient evidence that effective measures are in place to ensure the general public and workers are not exposed to unregulated excessive radionuclide/electromagnetic air pollution,” the AG asserts.

MET also did not ensure compliance with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate recommendation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, local authorities burn waste in unheralded fashion without protecting employees or preventing on-site exposure to these life-threatening gasses.

The audit covered six regions - Khomas, because it is where MET’s head office and key stakeholders are located, and Erongo, Otjozondjupa, Oshana, Oshikoto and Omaheke.

The latter regions were selected because uranium mining, fishing, locomotive operations, asbestos roofing, hospital incineration, charcoal production, motor vehicle testing and waste disposal among others take place there.

– Nampa

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