Health costs of energy related air pollution in South Africa

  • Energy and air pollution are becoming increasingly problematic in developing countries, and a wide range of evidence documents the associated health and productivity losses. This project aims to provide the first estimate of the health and economic burden of South Africa’s current air pollution levels.
  • We developed a Benefits Mapping and Analysis Program (BenMAP) model  for South Africa using local data on population, mortality rates, concentrations of particulate matter (PM), mortality risks, and the value of a statistical life.
  • We estimate 21,000 PM-related premature deaths due to current air quality levels and that 7.4% of all deaths in South Africa come from chronic exposure to fine PM.
  • These premature deaths cost the economy $20 billion, or 6% of South Africa’s 2012 GDP.

Due to a lack of local epidemiology studies, this study relied on information from the developed world. While there are a plethora of epidemiological studies that quantify the relationship between mortality due to air pollution in North America, Europe, and China, there is a dearth of similar data for developing countries in Africa.

Local differences in the composition of PM, living conditions, when and how people are exposed to pollution, and especially vulnerability due to high rates of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS infection, suggest there is a critical need for South Africa-specific studies on the association between air pollution and mortality. This study also highlighted the need for increased fine PM monitoring around South Africa, as well as improved air quality modeling with updated emissions inventories.

The BenMAP model developed in this study calculated that 27,000 premature mortalities across South Africa are due to the currently high levels of fine PM. This is in stark contrast to the 1,800 deaths estimated by the Global Burden of Disease study. This work indicates that 7.4% of all deaths in South Africa come from chronic exposure to fine PM. These premature deaths cost the economy $20 billion, or 6% of South Africa’s 2012 GDP.

This analysis will provide South African policymakers with the information they need to evaluate the costs of environmental regulations in the context of the potential benefits to public health. Given that the current shortage of electricity is damaging investor confidence and contributing to the continued downward revision of GDP growth forecasts, this is a critical issue to evaluate on a macroeconomic scale.

Outputs