KUWAIT: Air pollution is responsible for more than five million deaths annually throughout the world, an environment expert said yesterday. US Air Quality and Health Speaker Dr Sumi Mehta was invited for environmental talks and speaking engagements at Kuwait University and a four-hour special workshop for the local press at Radisson Blu Hotel in order to effectively use data in reporting about environment, air pollution and health issues.

Mehta’s presence was sponsored by the US State Department, which has worked with governments around the world to improve environmental policies. Mehta provided information on how and where to get the data necessary for reporting and how to use them in reporting about the environment.

Speaking at the workshop, Mehta said the air pollution problem disproportionately affects vulnerable populations, especially women and children without access to clean household energy. Kuwait is not exempted, and according to data she showed during the workshop, air pollution in Kuwait is responsible for 10 percent of deaths annually. “More or less 10 percent of deaths are connected to air pollution. Records were derived from reliable sources – and I was involved in gathering some of the records – and they are all accurate data,” she pointed out.

KUWAIT: US Air Quality and Health Speaker Dr Sumi Mehta speaks at the workshop.

Mehta defines air pollution as a complex mixture of gases and aerosols which are manifested as dust, soot, smog or smoke with chemical components of particulate matter (PM). Sources of PM include household fuel combustion, especially from solid fuels, tobacco smoke and power generation, especially from coal, open burning of trash, agriculture waste and forests and motor vehicles like diesel engines. According to Mehta, heath risk from PM depend on particle size. She said particles below 2.5 microns (PM2.5) are most harmful because they penetrate deep into small airways and air sacs of the lungs.

Other air pollutants include nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and ground level ozone, while traffic related air pollution is from the combustion engines of motor vehicles and diesel engines – reported to be the most polluting. Power generation, municipal and agricultural waste incineration also contributes significantly to the quality of air. But there are natural sources of air pollution too, which include wind-blown dust, salt and sea spray, volcanic eruptions and forest and grassland fires.

Mehta said that even today, there are around 3 billion people in the world who rely on poor quality of fuel to survive. “In rural areas of India, China and Africa, many people are still relying on biomass (wood, animal dung, crop waste), charcoal, coal or kerosene for cooking, heating and lighting in their houses, and because of that, air pollution inside people’s homes reaches up to 100 times higher than the acceptable 2.5 PM level,” she mentioned.

In order to address air pollution, she recommends aggressive clean air action in various sectors from the areas of transportation (walking and cycling is highly recommended), residential (using LPG piped gas or electric cooking devices), electric power generation (more into renewable energies), industry (natural gas to replace coal for heating), waste management (ban on burning waste) and incentivizing people to take a more active role, taking into consideration shifting to cleaner fuels and technologies.

By Ben Garcia