Fighting for environmental health in Durban

Desmond D'Sa, coordinator for the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance
Desmond D'Sa, coordinator for the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (Photo credit: idex.org)

It’s hard to miss the major UN climate conference going on in Durban, South Africa right now (this one’s better known as COP 17), if only for the almost-daily embarrassments from Canada’s Environment Minister Peter Kent. He’s really good at sticking to his talking points about wanting major emitters like China and India included in any binding global agreement to lower carbon emissions. He seems unwilling to admit the uncomfortable fact that in a cumulative sense Canada is also a major emitter, because we’ve run an industrialized economy on fossil fuels for well over a century.

We were throwing ideas around at Terra Informa on how to cover what’s been happening in Durban, and decided an interesting approach might be to see what kind of work environmental organizations in the city have been up to. As it turns out, this is a big story. Fellow Terra Informer Kathryn Lennon and I tracked down a man named Desmond D’Sa who’s been working for over 15 years in South Durban to protect the health of locals from pollution in the area.

Des helped start an organization called the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance when he was part of a household survey that noticed diseases like asthma and cancers were much more common in their part of the city than elsewhere. Through research and environmental monitoring, they’ve been able to connect that to the industrial sites like oil refineries and paper mills that are concentrated in the poorer neighbourhoods in the south of the city. And as you can imagine, he had a lot to say about fossil fuel industries and the UN talks.

Listen to the interview online here.

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