How Arab countries can address pollution and improve urban air quality

Special How Arab countries can address pollution and improve urban air quality
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With COP28 set to take place in Dubai in November, experts believe the causes of the MENA region’s poor air quality warrant urgent attention. (AFP)
Special How Arab countries can address pollution and improve urban air quality
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With COP28 set to take place in Dubai in November, experts believe the causes of the MENA region’s poor air quality warrant urgent attention. (AFP)
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Updated 03 October 2023

How Arab countries can address pollution and improve urban air quality

How Arab countries can address pollution and improve urban air quality
  • Unique challenges faced by region, including high temperatures and frequent dust storms, contribute to poor air quality
  • Experts believe poor air quality warrants urgent attention at November’s UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai

DUBAI: Already contending with the combined challenges of rapid urbanization, a warming climate, and stress on freshwater resources, countries across the Middle East and North Africa are now fighting for something even more fundamental — breathable air.

The World Health Organization has warned that nine out of 10 people worldwide breathe polluted outdoor air that exceeds what it deems as acceptable levels, adding that the Arab region in particular has some of the world’s poorest air quality.

With the UN Climate Change Conference, COP28, set to take place in Dubai in November, experts believe not only does the problem of the region’s poor air quality warrant urgent attention, it also requires sustainable and cost-effective solutions.

The 2022 World Air Quality Report, conducted by Swiss firm IQAir, studied levels of PM2.5 (particles small enough to penetrate deep into the respiratory tract and lungs, causing or exacerbating illnesses such as asthma and heart issues) in 7,323 cities across 131 countries, regions and territories.

It found that the most polluted cities in the region are Baghdad in Iraq with an 80.1 average PM2.5 concentration, Manama in Bahrain with 66.6, Kuwait City in Kuwait with 55.8, and Dhahran in Saudi Arabia with 41.5.

Overall, a total of 118 (90 percent) of the 131 countries and regions studied exceeded the WHO’s annual PM2.5 guideline value of 5 µg/m3. (A concentration of 1 µg/m3 means that one cubic meter of air contains one microgram of particulate matter.)

A massive sandstorm advancing into Kuwait City. (AFP)

There is disagreement among experts over why the Middle East appears to suffer from especially poor air quality. Some of them point to such sources of particulate emission as oil-fired power stations, vehicles and heavy industry.

“The main sources of pollution in these cities are energy production, emissions from industrial processes, waste burning, construction and vehicles,” Prof. Tadhg O’Donovan, a solar researcher and deputy vice principal at Heriot-Watt University in Dubai, told Arab News.

“The most critical discussion at the COP28 should be around the use of renewable energy sources.”

Sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and soot are some of the many pollutants that are released into the atmosphere by the combustion of conventional (fossil) fuels and contribute to poor air quality.

The combustion of fuels also releases a number of gases — such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — into the atmosphere that contribute to a greenhouse effect and thus global warming.

“These greenhouse gases have a long half-life in the atmosphere ranging from decades to centuries,” Dr. Aseel Takshe, head of department and associate professor of public health at the Canadian University of Dubai, told Arab News.

While transparent discussions regarding the future of conventional fuels have been ongoing, Takshe believes significant action is yet to be taken to mitigate their environmental impacts. “More commitment to renewable energy is urgently needed,” she said.

Other scientists regard the Middle East’s frequent sand and dust storms as the most significant contributor to poor air quality. Rising average global temperatures and creeping desertification are believed to have increased the frequency of such storms, which cause and exacerbate respiratory illnesses.

Although Middle Eastern civilizations have experienced dust storms for thousands of years, post-industrial desert dust storms are different, lifting a growing load of airborne pollutants and transporting these substances over long distances.

Dust storms therefore magnify the problem of poor air quality, skewing the figures against Middle Eastern cities regardless of their emission-reduction policies.

Corniche Skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi during a severe sand storm. (AFP)

“The unique challenges faced by the region, including high temperatures and frequent dust storms, should not be overlooked,” Yousuf Fakhruddin, CEO of Fakhruddin Properties and developer of clean-air technologies, told Arab News.

He said strategies for managing these issues, such as improved meteorological forecasting and infrastructure design, will become vital for protecting air quality and public health in the future.

Depending on levels of air pollution, people’s lives can be impacted in various ways. From a reduction of life expectancy by two to five years to a range of chronic health conditions, prolonged exposure to high levels of air pollution can have devastating effects on population health.

“Respiratory diseases, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, are among the most common. These conditions can significantly reduce quality of life, and in severe cases, can be fatal,” said Fakhruddin.

Furthermore, cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease and stroke, have been linked to air pollution exposure. This is because pollutants can cause inflammation and damage to the cardiovascular system over time, increasing the risks.

In fact, research suggests that long-term exposure to certain air pollutants may even increase the risk of lung cancer, and emerging evidence suggests that air pollution may be linked to mental health issues and neurodevelopmental disorders in children.


• 270,000 Estimated deaths per year caused by air pollution in the MENA region.

• $141bn Annual cost of air pollution in MENA (representing 2% of regional GDP).

• 60 Average number of days a MENA resident reports sick in their lifetime due to exposure to elevated air pollution levels.

Source: World Bank

“It’s worth noting that the average person inhales approximately 11,000 liters of air each day,” said Fakhruddin.

“When this air is polluted, it means we’re introducing harmful substances into our bodies in large quantities every single day, which only amplifies the health risks.”

Mindful of the need to simultaneously reduce harmful emissions, the Gulf region has made improving air quality a high priority by seeking to cut vehicular exhaust emissions and halt the release of pollutants into the atmosphere.

O’Donovan highlights the Middle East’s targets for the transition to renewable energy, with the UAE aiming to increase the use of renewables as part of its energy mix to 44 percent by 2050, while Saudi Arabia is targeting 50 percent by 2030.

Gulf countries will most likely boost their renewable energy capacities primarily through solar and wind power, says O’Donovan, citing the twin advantages of the region’s climatic conditions and the falling price of such infrastructure.

Murky skyline of the Egyptian city of Giza. (AFP)

Saudi Arabia is building one of the world’s biggest green hydrogen facilities, which will be powered by 4 gigawatts of solar and wind energy and will be operational by 2025. The NEOM project’s plant is expected to create 650 tons of green hydrogen per day.

The Kingdom is building wind farms in Yanbu, Waad Al-Shamal and Al-Ghat. Dumat Al-Jandal, the Middle East’s largest wind farm and the first in Saudi Arabia, began producing 400 megawatts of carbon-free energy in August 2021.

The UAE’s Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Solar Park, the world’s largest single-site facility of its kind, is another key project, which aims to generate some 5,000 megawatts by 2030.

To address the issue of clean air, the UAE has launched the National Air Quality Agenda 2031 — a comprehensive plan to monitor and manage air quality across the country, providing real-time data in the country.

“This information is then shared with the authorities to help them develop policies on air-pollution control as well as enabling researchers and academicians to study the impact of environmental factors, industrial progress and population density on air quality,” said O’Donovan.

The issue goes beyond energy production. According to Fakhruddin, improving industrial emission standards is a critical issue that requires discussion at the upcoming COP28 summit.

“Many industries currently emit large quantities of pollutants with minimal regulation or oversight,” he said. “Implementing and enforcing stricter emission standards could significantly improve air quality.”

He also believes sustainable urban development should be a priority, with a focus on green building practices, efficient public transport networks, and greening initiatives.

Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, has launched a greening initiative to boost plant cover. As part of the Saudi Green Initiative, the Kingdom aims to plant 10 billion trees, with 7.5 million for Riyadh and its surroundings.

Electric vehicles could make a dent in pollution caused by car exhaust. Supplied)

The project is transforming Riyadh into an environmentally friendly metropolis with a high quality of life, reducing the capital’s energy consumption by easing ambient temperatures, and ultimately reducing healthcare expenditure.

Experts say a single hectare of land, when 11 percent of it is covered by plants, can remove 9.7 kg of air pollutants every year.

Saudi Arabia is also collaborating with other Arab governments on a Middle East Green Initiative, which includes a pledge to plant an additional 40 billion trees, the world’s largest afforestation effort.

The initiative could reduce land degradation and desertification in the process, thereby cutting the scale and frequency of dust storms.

Another important topic of discussion at COP28 will likely be how public-private partnerships can enable initiatives that improve air quality, according to O’Donovan of Heriot-Watt University.

“Some examples of potential initiatives are subsidies for the manufacture and use of electric vehicles, investing in renewable energy projects, collaboration for infrastructure projects that support pedestrian traffic and encouraging innovation aimed at addressing local air quality issues,” he said.

Fuse EV Conversions, a company that converts car engines from petrol to electric, is an example of how private enterprise can help to accelerate the Arab region’s energy transition.

“The current costs of electric vehicles are prohibitive,” Salman Hussein, founder and CEO of Fuse EV Conversions, told Arab News.

A sandstorm engulfs the Iraqi city of Basra. (AFP)

To capitalize on the opportunity, “we are developing conversion kits and working with regulators to roll out our services in more cities,” he said.

While many of the firm’s customers are classic car owners, it is also working on solutions for other applications such as the commercial sector, defense and NGOs.

Viewing the upcoming COP28 event as an opportunity for the region to address its sustainability challenges, Hussein believes governments should pay attention to practical steps by which environmental and climate goals could be reached.

“While billions of dollars have been prioritized toward sustainability, we should also explore ways to adapt existing solutions,” he said, adding that if costs borne by consumers are reduced tangibly, clean mobility goals could be achieved much faster.

“Here in the GCC, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have committed to net-zero carbon goals, and they are already transitioning to clean-energy solutions. This inspires confidence and, together with the clean tech ecosystem, we can create unparalleled impact.”

Russian envoy visits Lebanon, calls for restraint on all sides as Israel launches more strikes

Russian envoy visits Lebanon, calls for restraint on all sides as Israel launches more strikes
Updated 19 July 2024

Russian envoy visits Lebanon, calls for restraint on all sides as Israel launches more strikes

Russian envoy visits Lebanon, calls for restraint on all sides as Israel launches more strikes
  • Hezbollah targets 3 Israeli settlements ‘for the first time’ with dozens of drones in response to ‘attacks on civilians,’ vows more will follow
  • Prime Minister Najib Mikati concerned about deteriorating situation despite ‘external reassurances’ it is under control, government source says

BEIRUT: Russian diplomat Vladimir Safronkov held talks with Lebanese officials in Beirut on Friday during which he emphasized “the need for all parties to exercise restraint in preparation for reviving the peace process.”

After a meeting with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Safronkov, the Russian foreign minister’s special envoy to Lebanon, stressed the importance of strengthening relations between their nations.

He also met the speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berri, whose office said: “The discussions focused on the developments in Lebanon and the region in light of Israel’s continued aggression against Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.”

Safronkov’s visit was part of a regional tour. It was preceded by a stop in Saudi Arabia and followed by a trip to Israel, a government source in Lebanon said.

Prime Minister Mikati is worried about the “deteriorating situation on the southern front, like other Lebanese officials, despite external reassurances that the situation is under control,” the source added.

Safronkov’s visit came amid an escalation of the conflict between Hezbollah and the Israeli army along their shared border, as the former deploys new types of heavy missiles to the battlefield.

The government source said an Israeli assault on the village of Jmaijmeh in the Bint Jbeil District of southern Lebanon on Thursday night did not bode well for the prospects of peace. An airstrike destroyed a three-story building, killing four people and injuring 14. Among the dead was Ali Ahmed Maatouk, from the village of Sir El-Gharbiyeh, who was said to be a leader in Hezbollah’s Radwan Force.

Hezbollah responded on Thursday night and Friday morning with an aerial attack by “a squadron of assault drones on the Filon base (the headquarters of Brigade 210) and its warehouses in the northern region southeast of the occupied city of Safad, targeting the positions and accommodations of its officers and soldiers.”

The group said it carried out another aerial attack “with a squadron of assault drones on the newly established headquarters of the Western Brigade … south of the Ya'ara settlement, and targeted the positions and accommodations of its officers and soldiers.”

Israeli media reported that dozens of rockets were launched from Lebanon toward Western Galilee while Safronkov was holding talks in Beirut.

Hezbollah said it had targeted the settlements of Neve Ziv, Abirim, and Manot with dozens of Katyusha rockets “for the first time” since hostilities began nine months ago. It said the assaults were in response to “attacks on civilians on Thursday in southern Lebanese towns,” and vowed that “any attack on civilians will be met with a response against new Israeli settlements.”

Amid the threats, Israeli forces carried out attacks on several locations along the border. Warplanes targeted the village of Hula, and shortly after paramedics arrived at the scene there a second attack took place nearby, injuring some members of the emergency crews and narrowly missing others.

Hezbollah’s attacks on Friday included one it said targeted the “Ruwaisat Al-Alam site in the occupied Lebanese hills of Kfarchouba with a heavy Wabel rocket, manufactured by Islamic Resistance fighters, which directly hit the site, partially destroying it and causing fires.” The group also used a Burkan missile and anti-tank missiles in its assaults.

The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Friday that about 70 rockets had been launched by Hezbollah at Israel since that morning.

Hezbollah reportedly struck Israeli artillery bunkers in Khirbet Ma’ar and soldiers in their vicinity with dozens of Falaq and Katyusha rockets. The group also targeted the Metula military site with artillery shells, and Israeli soldiers in the vicinity of the Ramim barracks were attacked with a Burkan missile, Hezbollah said.

The Lebanese Resistance Brigades said it took part in military operations against Israeli positions and had targeted “Al-Raheb site with guided missiles and artillery shells, hitting it directly.”

On Friday, Hezbollah mourned the death of member Mohammed Hassan Mostapha, 37, from the village of Aitaroun in southern Lebanon.

The Israeli army said on Thursday night that a 25-year-old officer serving at its Ma'aleh base had died of injuries caused by a drone explosion in Golan.


DP World, Evyap Group merge Turkish operations to form major international logistics hub

DP World, Evyap Group merge Turkish operations to form major international logistics hub
Updated 19 July 2024

DP World, Evyap Group merge Turkish operations to form major international logistics hub

DP World, Evyap Group merge Turkish operations to form major international logistics hub
  • Merger capitalizes on the strengths of two major ports on the Marmara Sea

DUBAI: Emirati logistics firm DP World and Evyap Group, a Turkiye-based consumer conglomerate, have merged their Turkish operations to form a new international logistics hub, Emirates News Agency reported.

The newly formed entity, DP World Evyap, sees DP World assume a 58 percent stake in Evyapport and Evyap Group secure a 42 percent share of DP World Yarımca.

It capitalizes on the strengths of two major ports on the Marmara Sea, enhancing Turkiye’s pivotal role in global trade. The key maritime gateways will be rebranded as DP World Evyap Yarımca and DP World Evyap Korfez.

DP World Evyap will help meet the region’s growing demand for sophisticated logistics, increase Turkiye’s export and import volumes, open up new sectors, and strengthen the country’s growing status as a major hub in global supply chains.

The merger will result in a total of 2,088 meters of berthing space and the ability to accommodate more than one ultra-large container vessel at the same time at both terminals. The total annual container handling capacity will also exceed 2 million TEUs, as the integrated operation expands to include project and heavy-lift cargo services.

Furthermore, DP World Evyap will benefit from advanced road and rail connections, as well as faster turnaround times, with a team of over 900 logistics experts geared to optimizing cargo journeys.

“DP World’s vision is to lead global trade to a stronger, more efficient and sustainable future. Our strategic partnership with Evyapport advances this strategy in Turkiye, one of our most important markets. We’re delighted to bring enhanced end-to-end solutions to our customers and the many benefits in speed and efficiency of this union,” DP World Group Chairman and CEO Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem said.

Evyap Holding CEO Mehmed Evyap added: “This partnership combines the global expertise of DP World and the local knowledge of Evyapport and strengthens our presence in the port sector as we expand our investments in this field.

“The new company will shorten operation times, increase service diversity and add value to our customers and Turkiye’s trade with efficiencies achieved across the two partnership terminals.”

FAO, Jordan to provide agriculture training to 120 women

FAO, Jordan to provide agriculture training to 120 women
Updated 19 July 2024

FAO, Jordan to provide agriculture training to 120 women

FAO, Jordan to provide agriculture training to 120 women
  • Agreement will bolster the skills of 120 women in the Jordanian governorates of Balqa, Jerash, and Ajloun

AMMAN: The UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the Jordan River Foundation have signed an agreement to support women in agriculture through vocational and technical training, Jordan News Agency reported on Friday.

JRF provides local communities and refugees with economic opportunities through its Community Empowerment Program, improving standards of living.

The agreement will bolster the skills of 120 women in the Jordanian governorates of Balqa, Jerash, and Ajloun. It will include a technical and vocational training program that will teach project management and financial literacy, in addition to skills in the processing of carob, sumac and honey.

By improving technical and administrative capacities, the agreement aims to empower women to start agricultural initiatives, enhancing their standard of living and raising household earnings.

UAE, Seychelles central banks ink MoU to facilitate cross-border transactions

UAE, Seychelles central banks ink MoU to facilitate cross-border transactions
Updated 19 July 2024

UAE, Seychelles central banks ink MoU to facilitate cross-border transactions

UAE, Seychelles central banks ink MoU to facilitate cross-border transactions
  • First MoU to establish a framework to promote use of local currencies in settling bilateral transactions
  • Second MoU entails collaboration on services of instant payment platforms, electronic switches, messaging systems

DUBAI: The central banks of the UAE and Seychelles signed two memoranda of understanding on Friday to promote the use of local currencies in cross-border financial and commercial transactions, as well as to link payment and messaging systems between the two countries, the Emirates News Agency reported.

The agreements were inked by CBUAE Gov. Khaled Mohammed Balama and CBS Gov. Caroline Abel in Abu Dhabi.

The first MoU aims to establish a framework to promote the use of local currencies in settling bilateral commercial transactions, developing the exchange market, and facilitating bilateral trade and direct investment, remittance settlement, and financial market development.

Under the second MoU, both parties will collaborate and benefit from the services of instant payment platforms, electronic switches, and messaging systems by directly connecting them in accordance with the countries’ regulatory requirements.

This includes connecting the CBUAE’s Instant Payments Platform, which is being developed as part of the Financial Infrastructure Transformation Programme, to the Seychelles’ similar platform to facilitate mutual acceptance of local cards and transaction processing.

Balama said that the signing of the MoU reflects the central bank’s desire to expand its ties with regional and international counterparts in order to strengthen the UAE’s economic and commercial partnerships around the world.

“The use of the two countries’ currencies for cross-border financial and commercial transactions reflects the growing trade, investment, and financial cooperation and contributes to reducing costs and saving time in settling transactions. This helps in developing the foreign exchange market in the UAE dirham and the Seychellois rupee, leading to enhancing trade exchanges, investments, and remittance between the two countries,” he explained.

Abel added: “For small open island economies like Seychelles, the importance of an effective and efficient financial system to facilitate trade cannot be overemphasized. In this regard, the MoUs just signed between our two central banks, guided by the relevant and applicable laws to safeguard the soundness and integrity of our respective financial systems, can assist this endeavor.”

She stated that the agreement to establish the necessary framework for promoting the use of UAE dirhams and Seychelles rupees in cross-border transactions will improve trade relations between stakeholders in both jurisdictions.

“With the Central Bank of Seychelles spearheading efforts to modernize and develop the Seychelles national payment system, in line with the government’s digital economy agenda, the opportunity to collaborate on interlinking our payment and messaging systems will facilitate the processing and settlement of cross-border financial transactions between the two countries,” Abel said.

US must restore funding to UN aid agency for Palestinians, rights body warns

US must restore funding to UN aid agency for Palestinians, rights body warns
Updated 19 July 2024

US must restore funding to UN aid agency for Palestinians, rights body warns

US must restore funding to UN aid agency for Palestinians, rights body warns
  • America, the largest historical donor, is now a ‘shameful outlier’
  • Major aid cutoff in January followed unproven Israeli allegations

LONDON: The US must restore funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, said Human Rights Watch on Friday.

The organization’s appeal also referred to the UK, which, until it was lifted today, had also suspended crucial funding to the largest relief group in Gaza.

In January this year, UNRWA said that 16 countries had suspended donations to the agency.

These included the US, UK, Australia, Austria, Canada, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Sweden.

After today, the US is the only country with an active suspension.

The aid cutoff followed Israeli allegations that 19 UNRWA staff, out of the agency’s 3,000 employees, had taken part in the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel.

But an independent review released on April 20, as well as a UN investigation, found no evidence to support the allegations.

UNRWA officials also said that Israeli authorities had failed to provide evidence supporting the claims.

Last week, the US and UK both endorsed a set of UNRWA commitments “recognizing the serious humanitarian, political and security risks that would result from any interruption or suspension of its vital work.”

But despite signing the statement, the US has yet to resume funding to the agency.

Akshaya Kumar, crisis advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The US is now a shameful outlier as most donors have resumed funding UNRWA.

“Cutting off aid was disproportionate to the allegations against UNRWA from the start. Palestinians in Gaza are facing catastrophic food insecurity, massive shortages of medical supplies, and repeated displacement, and there’s no substitute for UNRWA’s networks, experience, and capacity to provide relief.”

UNRWA, which relies on crucial donations from national governments to carry out its work, has warned that it faces a financial crisis as a result of the stalled funding.

Washington has historically served as the largest donor to UNRWA, and contributed one-third of the agency’s budget last year.

But the US Congress has passed a law forbidding any new funding to UNRWA until at least March next year.

In response to the Human Rights Watch appeal, officials from the Joe Biden administration claimed that US funds were diverted from UNRWA to other aid agencies operating in Gaza.

As a result of Israel’s war, 90 percent of Gaza’s population has been displaced, and 96 percent are expected to face crisis or worse levels of food insecurity by September this year.

Despite the agency’s urgent humanitarian work in the enclave, it has faced a sustained campaign by Israel resulting in reputational and physical damage.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in January that “UNRWA’s mission has to end.”

The country’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, said that the agency would “not be part of the day after” in Gaza.

Human Rights Watch has also documented two cases of UNRWA aid workers being struck by Israeli munitions despite having relayed their locations to the army’s personnel.