The Irony of COVID-19 and Cleaner Air, Clearer Skies: An African Jesuit Cleric

Logo of the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies marked Monday, September 7.

On the maiden International Day of Clean Air for blue skies marked Monday, September 7 under the theme “Clean Air for All,” a member of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) ministering in South Africa has reflected on what he says is the irony of COVID-19 lockdown contributing to cleaner air and clearer skies.

In the Monday, September 7 reflection published by the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM), Fr. Rampe Hlobo says that although COVID-19 has had a “devastating effect on many things” including world economies, it has also “briefly and ironically resulted in desirably cleaner air and clearer skies.”  

“As the virus ravaged lives, countries went under severe lockdowns; travel restrictions, together with industrial downturn, saw air pollution dropping,” he says and adds, “The air cleared, mother earth and her creatures had a chance to breathe again.” 

The quality of the air we breathe, Fr. Rampe notes, also “improved dramatically as pollution decreased, thanks to the temporary restrictions.”

The South Africa-based Jesuit Cleric considers the clearing of the air during COVID-19 lockdown as “just one more piece of empirical evidence that our economic activities have been creating serious pollution.”


In his reflection, he makes reference to a recent visibility study carried out to predict the amount of particle pollution in the air in three African capitals.

The study established that visibility in Nairobi, Kampala, and Addis Ababa has reduced over time.

“The results showed that over a period of 45 years, Nairobi has lost 60% of its visibility, meaning that the average visibility dropped from about 35 KM in the 1970s to about 14 KM in the 2010s,” Fr. Rampe notes in his September 7 reflection. 

Kampala and Addis Ababa “showed a loss of visibility of 56% and 34% respectively,” he adds.

“Most of the time the air we breathe is filled with tiny invisible particles posing serious dangers to our lungs, bloodstreams and bodies,” pollutants that not only deprive us of clear skies and clean air, but also pose a danger to “our health and wellbeing,” the Jesuit Cleric says.

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He bemoans the plight of the poor people in developing countries, majority of whom, he notes, are exposed to high levels of ambient outdoor air pollution and indoor air pollution from cooking and heating with firewood and kerosene. 

Due to social injustices in such countries, he says, “women and children suffer disproportionately” from air pollution, as they are mostly the ones carrying out household chores such as cooking and heating. 

“These are some of the poor that Pope Francis alluded to in his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’,” the Jesuit Cleric further says and adds in reference to the Holy Father, “He laments the disproportionate impact of the environmental crisis on the poor and how urgent change of behavior can mitigate the situation.” 

With WHO warning of a close correlation between exposure to high concentrations of small particulates and increased morbidity or mortality, Fr. Rampe says, “Working diligently for the reduction of pollution and clean air and for blue skies is therefore indispensable for the good of our planet and humanity.”

“Taking care of our planet and the environment, means protecting the fundamental right to life and its preservation. It also means taking care of our health and enhancing that of the rest of creation,” Fr. Rampe says in his September 7 reflection on the occasion of the maiden International Day of Clean Air for blue skies. 


That the commemoration of the day falls within the ecumenical month-long Season of Creation is a testament that the UN and its Member States, just like the Christian leaders, “are cognizant of the urgent need to reduce the amount of pollution, improve air quality and to ensure clean air,” the Jesuit Priest says. 

Established on December 19, 2019, the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies aims for, among other things, raising “public awareness at all levels - individual, community, corporate and government - that clean air is important for health, productivity, the economy and the environment.”

On this maiden celebration, the UN leadership “calls upon everyone from governments and corporations to civil society and individuals to take action to reduce air pollution and bring a transformative change in our lifestyles.”