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.


Trump criticized over meeting with parents of UK crash victim

Updated 2 min 19 sec ago

Trump criticized over meeting with parents of UK crash victim

  • Harry Dunn, aged 19, died on August 27 in a head-on collision between his motorcycle and a car being driven on the wrong side of the road in Northamptonshire in central England
  • Anne Sacoolas was interviewed by police about the deadly incident but flew back to the United States after claiming diplomatic immunity

WASHINGTON: The parents of a British teen killed in a road crash involving a US diplomat’s wife feel their meeting with President Donald Trump was little more than a sloppy attempt at a photo op, their spokesman said Wednesday.
Tim Dunn and Charlotte Charles were invited Tuesday to the White House, where they met with Donald Trump, and were infomed that the diplomat’s wife was in the building — and that Trump wanted them to meet with her in front of photographers.
“It struck us that this meeting was hastily arranged by nincompoops on the run,” said the spokesman, Radd Seiger.
The couple refused to meet the woman, Anne Sacoolas, feeling neither the time nor place were right.
Harry Dunn, aged 19, died on August 27 in a head-on collision between his motorcycle and a car being driven on the wrong side of the road in Northamptonshire in central England.
Sacoolas was interviewed by police about the deadly incident but flew back to the United States after claiming diplomatic immunity.
She has not been charged with criminal wrongdoing, but her claim of immunity and return to the United States have provoked an uproar in Britain.
Charles said that she and her husband do want to meet with Sacoolas — but in Britain.
“She needs to come back and face the justice system,” Charles said after the 15-minute meeting.
In an interview Wednesday morning with CBS News, the parents avoided any criticism of Trump, describing him as warm and welcoming in the White House meeting.
“He was willing to listen, didn’t interrupt me at all,” Charles said.
She said that emotionally it would not be good for her, her husband or for Sacoolas to meet on such short notice, without therapists or mediators present.
“None of us know how we were going to react, to have that put on us,” Charles said.
Trump pressed them repeatedly to meet with Sacoolas.
“He did ask two or three times,” Dunn said.
Trump said Wednesday the meeting “was really beautiful in a certain way.”
“It was very sad, to be honest. They lost their son. I believe it was going down the wrong way because it happens in Europe. You go to Europe and the roads are opposite. It is very tough if you are from the United States,” Trump said.
In his surprise meeting with Dunn’s parents, Trump indicated Sacoolas would not be returning to Britain but was sympathetic.
At the end of the meeting “I asked him again, ‘If it was your 19-year-old son, or your son no matter what age, you would be doing the same as me.’ And he was holding my hand at the time and he said, ‘Yes, I would’ and he said, ‘Maybe we’ll try and push this from a different angle’,” Charles said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for Sacoolas to return to Britain, saying: “I do not think that it can be right to use the process of diplomatic immunity for this type of purpose.”