26 July 2020
Monametse Village, Atok District
By Gilbert Moela

As the coronavirus pandemic impacts millions across the world and brings economies to a grinding halt, there is a lot of talk about how emissions from fossil fuel combustion have dropped radically in many countries. Yet this is no solution to air pollution and climate change. For while eerily empty mining affected communities may be bathed in blue skies, some are suddenly out of work and wondering how they are going to care for their families.

The poor and most vulnerable mining affected communities will suffer most from the health impacts caused by Covid-19, air pollution and the economic crisis. Cleaner air for a few months may be a tiny silver lining to COVID-19’s dark clouds, but will do little in the long run to solve the problem of outdoor air pollution caused by windy season that affect communities living closer to mine tailing dumps. One of the refrains all of us are hearing as the coronavirus spreads is to quit smoking. But what about many people who are exposed to high levels of air pollution from mine tailing dumps?

They can’t choose to quit breathing the air where they live. On every mining affected community, people suffer the negative health impacts of air pollution. And while it’s too early to prove a direct correlation between current high air pollution levels and incidence of COVID-19, high pollution levels might also increase the risk of contracting COVID-19 in the first place, as particulate matter has the potential to act as carriers for contagion leading to rapid spread over larger areas. There will be particularly profound health impacts on children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those already suffering from asthma, heart, and lung disease.
The coronavirus pandemic has made it clearer than ever that human and planetary health are intimately interconnected. The choice is ours to act accordingly.