Something’s in the air

Shakir Reshamwala

Kuwait has a significant problem of air pollution. While public attention has been focused on smog-hit northern India, which has the worst air quality in the world, it is worthwhile to note that Kuwait ranks seventh worst worldwide in the estimated average concentration of PM2.5, according to the Swiss-based IQAir AirVisual app.

PM2.5 refers to particulate matter (ambient airborne particles) which measure up to 2.5 microns in size, and has a range of chemical makeups and sources. PM2.5 is widely regarded as the pollutant with the most health impact of all commonly measured air pollutants. Due to its small size PM2.5 is able to penetrate deep into the human respiratory system and from there to the entire body, causing a wide range of short- and long-term health effects.

Kuwait’s estimated average PM2.5 concentration in 2018 was 56.0 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³) of air, which is categorized as ‘unhealthy’, with an increased likelihood of adverse effects and aggravation to the heart and lungs among the general public. In the region, only Bahrain has worse air quality than Kuwait (fifth globally with a PM2.5 concentration of 59.8 µg/m³). UAE comes in ninth with an average of 49.9 µg/m³. All three countries exceed the WHO annual guidelines by more than five times.

The most popular provider of air quality data in Kuwait is the US Embassy, which displays near real-time readings of air pollution on its website. Other sources include the Kuwait Environment Public Authority, Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences and Kuwait University. There is usually some divergence in the readings provided by these monitors, but reviewing data over a period of time reveals air quality is generally poor in the country.

According to IQAir AirVisual, the primary contributor to air pollution in the Middle East is natural, from windblown dust storms. However, human activity also significantly contributes to local air pollution, including industrial emissions from oil refineries, fossil fueled power plants, combustion-based transportation and high usage of private vehicles.
For the average person, solutions to reduce air pollution seem to be beyond their control. This may be true to some extent, but IQAir has some tips to reduce personal exposure to air pollution. These include reducing outdoor activities when pollution levels are high, protecting indoor spaces by closing windows during outdoor air pollution episodes, and where possible, implementing indoor air purification and/or personal outdoor respiratory protection.

It adds that personal choices also have a significant impact on reducing pollution emissions. Choosing clean modes of transport (cycling, walking, public transport), lowering household energy usage and personal waste output, and supporting local air quality initiatives can all positively impact the air quality in our communities and on our planet.

The government has taken various measures to curb air pollution, including actively pursuing a target of using renewable energy to generate at least 15 percent of power by 2030. But we individuals also have a responsibility to pitch in and ensure that our actions do not pollute the environment. This is the least we can do for future generations.

By Shakir Reshamwala