Author: AMJAD PARKAR | ARAB NEWS
Wednesday 1 June 2011
Taha Mohammed Zatari, director general of the Environmental Standards General Directorate at the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment (PME), did however stress to Arab News that steps were being taken to improve the general environment in Saudi Arabia, particularly with regard to reducing traffic on the roads.
“The first step now is (to provide) trains that go from (Jeddah) to Makkah, particularly during the Haj and Umrah seasons,” he told Arab News on the sidelines of a session on technologies and regulations to protect the Gulf region’s air, land and marine environment on the final day of the Gulf Environment Forum at the Jeddah Hilton.
“I hope they will encourage people to leave their cars at home and use the trains instead.”
Zatari added that efforts were underway to encourage citizens and expatriates to use public transport, but added that could not happen without good facilities in the first place.
“We have set up many committees and we realize that we need to go for good public transport facilities, including a metro and an underground,” he said.
“However, it requires time. It is not going to be done in a day or two, it is a long-term strategy. We need to focus on the dense areas like Makkah and Madinah, then we’ll see about the rest of the country.”
Zatari said another challenge Saudi Arabia faced in improving the quality of air was ensuring all cars were using unleaded fuel.
When asked whether electric cars were a feasible option, he replied: “Look, it is a good idea. But even in Europe, electric cars are only starting out because the technology isn’t very advanced. As you know, the Kingdom is vast, a big country, and people travel for as much as 20 hours. First of all, you have to give (the people) good public transportation.
Tahir Husain, a professor of environmental engineering at Canada’s Memorial University who presented at the session, said that according to research conducted by the university, amounts of harmful gases including nitrogen oxide, respirable particulates and sulfur dioxide consistently exceeded acceptable levels defined by PME’s air quality standards in major cities such as Makkah, Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam and Yanbu.
This, he said, could lead to increased incidences of respiratory-related diseases and deaths. He added that Saudi Arabia faced challenges in cutting down air pollution, such as the absence of centralized database on air quality and emissions inventory, very little information on emissions from major sources at national level and inadequate numbers of air quality monitoring stations in urban areas, among others.
The session was chaired by King Abdulaziz Univeristy President Osama Sadik Tayeb. Other speakers included Osama Fageeha, general supervisor of environmental engineering at Saudi Aramco, and Abdulrahman Abdullah Al-Awadi, executive director of the Regional Organization for the Protection of the Marine Environment.