How Bad is Pollution in the UAE?

10 August 2017

Lab Chat

The United Arab Emirates has the seventh biggest oil reserves and seventeenth largest natural gas reserves in the world. It’s pretty impressive for such a small area, but with fossil fuels comes talk of pollution. Countries like India and China are heavily reliant on fossil fuels, and suffer from high levels of air pollution as a result. So, how does the UAE compare.

Little Green Data Book

Each year, the World Bank releases its ‘Little Green Data Book’. It looks at the environmental situation of each country, based on a range of criteria – from agriculture and forests to emissions and water quality. The 2017 Little Green Data Book was released in June, and it has some pretty bleak findings for the UAE

The study measures PM2.5 for each country. This is particulate matter in the air, which is made up of particles less than or equal to 2.5 micrometres in diameter. Because they are small enough to get into the lungs, they can cause a wide range of respiratory diseases and even lung cancer.

Worse than expected

According to the Little Green Data Book, the UAE has an average PM2.5 level of 64 micrograms per cubic metres. That’s way above the global average of 44 micrograms and exceeds China (58), who are renowned for their air pollution problems. It’s also above the regional average of 61, across the Middle East and North Africa.

The figures also estimate what percentage of the population are exposed to unsafe levels of PM2.5. This is an average that exceeds the World Health Organisation’s guideline level of 10 micrograms per cubic metre. Based on this guideline, the study found that 100% of the UAE population is exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution.

Despite this, there are some upsides for the wealthiest in the country. Levels of PM2.5 are estimated to be a much lower 17 micrograms per cubic metre, on average, for the ‘high-income group’ in the study. This meets the global average, but emphasises the vast inequality across the globe.

Is UAE the worst?

It’s worse than China, but there are some countries with figures worse than the UAE. India, most notably, has an average PM2.5 exposure of 74 micrograms per cubic metre annually. The country is aiming to reduce those drastic levels, however. As part of their commitment to the Paris climate agreement, they planted over 60 million trees in just 12 hours earlier this year. Trees are a useful way of capturing and trapping particulate matter, as well as absorbing carbon dioxide. Maybe it’s time for the UAE to consider a similar tree-planting scheme.

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