ENVIRONMENTAL activists are to make a submission today to try to stop the government’s plan to amend the South African Weather Service Act, saying it would render the Air Quality Act “meaningless”.
The bill, among other proposed restrictions, is aimed at “protecting the general public against the distribution of inaccurate or hoax warnings or weather predictions that could cause public panic and lead to evacuations and/or the unwarranted waste of resources – money, people and techno-logy”, say officials.
However, Durban environmental activist Desmond D’Sa said the proposed amendments were “madness”.
“The amendments have negative implications for the environment. We will not be able to reveal the results of air quality tests that we take in the Durban South basin on a regular basis.
“The Air Quality Act will become meaningless,” he said.
According to the amendment, people could face a R10 million fine or 10 years’ jail for issuing informa- tion that may be construed as a “severe weather or pollution-related warning”, without written permission from the weather service.
Robin Hugo, the staff attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights in Cape Town, said they would make their submission today.
Hugo said the submission would encompass the concerns of several environmental groups, including those from the South Durban basin.
“The department has set January 17 and 18 for public comment on the bill, but I believe those dates might change,” she said.
DA environmental affairs spokesman Gareth Morgan said the prohibition from making pollution-related warnings without official consent was “absurd”.
“The NGOs that work in the highly polluted communities such as the South Durban basin perform excellent work, monitoring pollution, that supplements the work of the state.
“Why should they seek permission from the weather service to issue a warning?” he said.
Albie Modise, spokesman for the Environment Department, said the bill would ensure there was no possible confusion over warnings.
“If it comes from the weather service, it is official. If it does not, check with the weather service first,” he said.