Residents in Dubai on Wednesday woke to dusty weather that persisted throughout the day.
The National Centre of Meteorology issued a yellow alert – meaning residents should take care if they go outside – that winds of up to 40kph could kick up dust clouds.
And this was borne out with levels of dust affecting air quality across the UAE on the first day of the Eid Al Adha holiday.
According to the IQ Air index, a global indicator of air quality, the city’s air was considered “very unhealthy” at 4:15pm on Wednesday with the chief pollutants being PM10 (particulate matter up to 10 micrometres in size, where one micrometre is one-thousandth of a millimetre) and PM2.5 (up to 2.5 micrometres in size). PM is composed of tiny particles from natural and human sources.
The worst-affected areas in Dubai were Dubai Investments Park and Deira Union Square, with other areas such as Karama, Jebel Ali Village, and Jumeirah 3 also affected. Elsewhere in Dubai, such as the Palm Jumeirah and Jumeirah Beach Residences, the air quality was significantly better and classified as moderate.
The index runs from 0 to 500 with Dubai’s air measured at 226, or very unhealthy. In Abu Dhabi the air quality was measured at 157, or unhealthy. Air pollution in Dubai comes from transport; construction; and sand storms along with other sources.
Doctors in the UAE, meanwhile, advised people to stay indoors and wear face masks if they must go outside. “In view of current dusty and windy conditions, it is advisable that people take precautions,” said Dr Kiran Kumar, head of internal medicine at Thumbay University Hospital in Ajman.
“Those who have respiratory illnesses, children and the elderly should preferably stay indoors and should avoid exposure to dust as much as possible. If they are outdoors they should wear masks."
Dr Kumar said air pollution had several negative effects on health and well-being because those with underlying respiratory illnesses such as asthma can develop a worsening cough and difficulty breathing if exposed to dust and smoke.
"Chronic exposure is associated with impaired lung function and there are reports suggesting increased risk of heart disease as well,” he said.
The levels in the UAE as surveyed by the index fluctuate constantly and it suggested the situation would improve on Thursday. However, the NCM said strong south-easterly and north-westerly winds of up to 40kph could again cause dust clouds across the country.
It also cautioned rain could fall over some eastern and southern areas by the afternoon.
According to the UN, air pollution kills about seven million people every year and is the biggest environmental health risk of our time. Figures published by the World Bank taken from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 showed the mean annual exposure to PM2.5 in the UAE is 41 microgrammes per cubic metre. This compares with the World Health Organisation's recommended maximum of five microgrammes per cubic metre. The global average is 46.
Authorities, however, have stepped up efforts to tackle the issue. The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment in 2022 launched the UAE National Air Quality Agenda 2031 to galvanise federal and local government entities and the private sector to improve monitoring and effective managing of air quality and reducing air pollution.