Air pollution becomes Afghanistan’s silent killer

Common causes of pollution in Afghanistan are low-quality fuel and dilapidated vehicles. (AN photo)
Updated 14 January 2019

Air pollution becomes Afghanistan’s silent killer

  • Common causes of pollution include low-quality fuel, inefficient vehicles
  • Harsh droughts have contributed to the decrease in air quality

KABUL: From a distance, giant khaki blankets appear to smother Kabul’s spectacular mountainside.

Visitors may even be enthralled by the phenomenon. Only when near the suburbs, however, do they realize the enveloping layer is thick smog of dirt and fumes.

A report released in the US last month listed Kabul as among the top 10 most polluted cities in the world. For many Afghans, it is a potent silent killer.

The Afghan government, riven by internal strife and locked in conflict with the Taliban, lacks the technology to monitor pollution levels in a city of nearly 6 million people.

It also either keeps no official statistics on how many die annually as a result of air pollution, or does not acknowledge them. Its resources are scant, and measures to curb pollution exist only on paper.

Estimates by independent researchers about the number of deaths, though, are shocking. A former Afghan public health worker, based in the UK, told the BBC that 30,000 people died due to conditions linked to air pollution last year alone. Others say it is even higher.

“The latest report from the Health Effects Institute’s State of Global Air project estimates that air pollution was attributable for 51,600 deaths in Afghanistan in 2016,” noted the Conflict and Environment Observatory in June 2018. 

“With an annual rate of 406 deaths per 100,000, its air pollution is among the worst in the world. The report combines data on PM2.5, ozone and indoor air pollution associated with the combustion of solid fuels.”

Common causes of pollution include low-quality fuel, inefficient vehicles, and the burning of tires, rubber, plastic and coal.

Harsh droughts have contributed to the decrease in air quality, and at night, when temperatures drop below freezing, Kabul’s residents often have no choice but to use these dirty fuel sources to keep warm.

With power shortages exacerbating high electricity and gas prices, households are also burning around 2,200 kg of wood annually. That can cause serious respiratory issues, and has been linked to cancer.

“Your heart and lungs cannot distinguish the poison caused by these particles, and we all breathe them in every day,” Dr. Rabbani Nazbar said.

Environmental expert Mohammad Kazim Humayoun, meanwhile, told Arab News that people in Kabul should consider wearing facemasks and washing their hands regularly to lessen the effects of pollution.

Last month, the Afghan Parliament summoned officials to explain what was being done to reduce air pollution. “How can we justify this ongoing situation to the people?” Speaker Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi asked.

Waheed Mayar, a spokesman for the Ministry for Public Health, admitted that air pollution in Kabul was rising, but did not comment on the number of deaths it may have caused.

He said the Afghan government planned to acquire better pollution-testing facilities, and to take less efficient vehicles off the roads, but could not give a time frame for when either might happen. It also held an initiative last year, giving government employees an extra day off work to cut traffic pollution — it is unclear what effect this may have had.

Nigeria death toll rises in Boko Haram triple suicide bombing

Updated 51 min 31 sec ago

Nigeria death toll rises in Boko Haram triple suicide bombing

  • Three bombers detonated their explosives outside a hall in Konduga

Thirty people were killed late Sunday in a triple suicide bombing in northeast Nigeria, emergency services reported, in an attack bearing the hallmarks of the Boko Haram militant group.

Three bombers detonated their explosives outside a hall in Konduga, 38 kilometers from the Borno state capital Maiduguri, where football fans were watching a match on TV.

“The death toll from the attack has so far increased to 30. We have over 40 people injured,” Usman Kachalla, head of operations at the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), said on Monday.

An earlier toll from the blasts, the bloodiest in months, gave 17 dead and 17 wounded.

The attack happened around 9:00 P.M., Ali Hassan, the leader of a self-defense group in the town, said.

The owner of hall prevented one of the bombers from entering the packed venue.

“There was a heated argument between the operator and the bomber who blew himself up,” Hassan said by phone.

Two other bombers who had mingled among the crowd at a tea stall nearby also detonated their suicide vests.

Hassan said most of the victims were from outside the soccer viewing center.

“Nine people died on the spot, including the operator, and 48 were injured,” Hassan said.

Kachala said the high number of fatalities was because emergency responders had been unable to reach the site of the blast quickly.

Nor were they equipped to deal with large numbers of wounded.

“Lack of an appropriate health facility to handle such huge emergency situation and the delay in obtaining security clearance to enable us deploy from Maiduguri in good time led to the high death toll,” he said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the attack bore the imprint of Boko Haram, which has led a decade-long campaign to establish a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria.

The last suicide attack was in April this year when two female suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the garrison town of Monguno, killing a soldier and a vigilante and injuring another soldier.

Konduga has been repeatedly targeted by suicide bombers from a Boko Haram faction loyal to longtime leader Abubakar Shekau.

The faction typically carries out suicide attacks against soft civilian targets such as mosques, markets and bus stations, often using young women and girls as bombers.

The militants are believed to sneak into the town from the group’s haven in nearby Sambisa forest.

Eight worshippers were killed when a suicide bomber attacked a mosque in the town last July.

Boko Haram insurgency has claimed 27,000 lives and forced some two million to flee their homes.

The violence has spilled into neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting the formation of a regional military coalition to battle the insurgents.