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.


Morocco, Spain to hold talks about overlapping territorial waters

Updated 25 January 2020

Morocco, Spain to hold talks about overlapping territorial waters

  • The territorial waters Morocco has claimed include the coast off Western Sahar
  • The territory has been contested between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front since the Spanish colonial period ended in 1975

RABAT: The Moroccan and Spanish foreign ministers said on Friday their countries would hold talks about overlapping areas of ocean that they both claim rights to in the North Atlantic.
The territorial waters Morocco has claimed include the coast off Western Sahara, a territory that has been contested between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front since the Spanish colonial period ended in 1975.
Morocco’s parliament passed two bills this week to give domestic legal cover to a coastal area the North African country already controls, causing concern in Spain’s Canary Islands, where the government warned of overlaps with Spanish territorial waters.
Morocco’s foreign minister Nasser Bourita said that defining territorial waters was a “sovereign right” and that his country aimed to upgrade domestic law in compliance with the UN law of the sea convention.
“In case of overlaps, international law requires states to negotiate,” said Bourita following talks with his Spanish peer, Arancha Gonzalez Laya.
“Morocco rejects unilateral acts and fait accompli,” he said, adding that Spain was a “strategic partner” and Morocco’s largest trading partner.
Gonzalez Laya said Morocco’s willingness to negotiate “reassures the Canary Islands.”
“Morocco is a source of stability for Spain,” she said, citing “close cooperation” in the fight against jihadists and illegal migration.