Oman and Bahrain ‘among nations with worst air quality in 2021’

Sandstorms and fuel production drive rise in dangerous particles

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Oman and Bahrain are among the 10 nations with the worst air quality, a study has found.

The 2021 World Air Quality Report, conducted by Swiss firm IQAir, is based on measurements of particulate matter obtained by ground-level monitoring stations worldwide.

PM2.5, the size studied, consists of fine aerosol particles measuring 2.5 microns or smaller in diameter and is thought to be the most harmful to health of the air pollutants monitored by international bodies.

The report, released on Tuesday, said Oman had the sixth-worst air quality at 53.9 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m³).

Bahrain came in at eighth, with 49.8 10 µg/m³. Bangladesh was rated the worst at 76.9 µg/m³, followed by Chad, Pakistan, Tajikistan and India.

The readings for both Oman and Bahrain were higher than in 2020.

A score over 50 means the level of PM.25 exceeds the World Health Organisation guidelines by at least 10 times.

In September, the WHO updated the guidelines for the first time in 15 years to push countries to do more to combat the problem. The researchers behind the report used the new guidelines to return its results.

To meet WHO guidelines, the annual reading should be less than 5 µg/m³. Only three nations currently meet that, according to the IQAir study: Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands and New Caledonia.

The UN body says about 80 per cent of deaths related to PM2.5 could be avoided if air pollution was brought to within the new guidelines.

“Clean air should be a fundamental human right and a necessary condition for healthy and productive societies. However, despite some improvements in air quality over the past three decades, millions of people continue to die prematurely, often affecting the most vulnerable and marginalised populations,” the WHO regional director for Europe, Dr Hans Kluge, said last year.

“We know the magnitude of the problem and we know how to solve it. These updated guidelines give policymakers solid evidence and the necessary tool to tackle this long-term health burden.”

Bad air quality kills more than million people a year worldwide, and can exacerbate symptoms of Covid-19. In 2021, a direct link was found between poor air quality and the deaths of 40,000 children.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia came 15th and 21st in the report, respectively. The report is based on PM2.5 air quality data from 6,475 cities in 117 countries, regions and territories around the world.

The readings in the Gulf are linked to “fossil fuel-based energy production, emissions from industrial processes, waste burning, construction, and motor vehicles,” the report said.

But sandstorms also play a part, the report said. Its cited research that showed a dust plume created in June 2021 by strong winds carried dust from the Tigris-Euphrates River Valley to the western coast of the Arabian Gulf.

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“Dust storms are also a common source of natural air pollution in this region, especially from May to August as the temperatures rise and lead to large amounts of airborne dust,” the report read.

It wasn’t all bad news. Qatar and Kuwait achieved a nearly 15 per cent reduction in PM2.5 emissions during 2021, the report said.

Action is being taken across the Gulf to increase awareness of pollution and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Abu Dhabi’s Environment Agency has increased its air quality monitoring capacity in 2021; it now has 20 fixed monitoring stations.

It also joined the Global Air Pollution and Health Technical Advisory Group and took part in the 4th International Conference on Atmospheric Dust.

Updated: March 22, 2022, 6:55 PM