x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Air quality labelled a national priority

Environment minister says health problems caused by vehicle emissions alone cost Arab countries more than US$5 billion to treat.

Air pollution is causing "heavy economic losses" in Arab countries, the Minister of Environment and Water said yesterday, calling the issue a top priority for the UAE. "Its impact has not just been limited to human health alone, but it has also affected agricultural lands, forests, water channels and marine environment," Dr Rashid Ahmed bin Fahad said at the launch of the EnviroCities 2008 International Conference.

"Some of the lakes in our countries have turned into acid swamps... due to high pollution levels. The economy has also suffered a lot in the shape of a gradual destruction in infrastructure, electrical installations, iron structures, et cetera." The three-day conference, jointly organised by Dubai Municipality and the Environment Centre for Arab Towns, in co-operation with the Harvard School of Public Health, will search for solutions for environment and health-related problems facing Arab cities.

Dr Fahad said health problems from vehicle emissions alone cost Arab countries more than US$5 billion (Dh18.4bn) every year to fight. The figure was quoted from a report entitled Arab Environment: Future Challenges, issued recently by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development. Arab countries suffered immensely from the effects of primary and secondary air pollutants that led to a rise in respiratory and skin diseases, and eye infections, Dr Fahad said.

He said air pollution was the Government's prime environmental concern and the country had adopted measures to reduce its harmful effects. "We have introduced environmental legislation and a national strategy for preserving air quality," Dr Fahad said in his speech to participants and government representatives. Encouraging public transport would be a key factor in controlling air pollution, he added.

"Our concern is to widen the road network, encouraging use of public transport, introducing new modes of transport such as the Dubai metro, replacing the existing fuel with unleaded gasoline and low-carbon diesel." Natural gas was already being used as fuel for cars, Dr Fahad said. "We should adopt most modern techniques in monitoring, controlling and managing air pollution, and conduct more in-depth research and studies to identify the health, social and economic impact of air pollution so that decision-makers can rely on them for the future plans," he said.

Dr Fahad said more than five per cent of the gross domestic product in developing countries was being spent on problems associated with air pollution. "This cost involves death, chronic diseases, treatment cost and production deficiency in industries, manufacturing companies." Hussain Nasser Lootah, the acting director general of Dubai Municipality, noted that the World Health Organisation estimated in 2000 that there were three million deaths caused by air pollution-related diseases every year.

Mr Lootah said this accounted for five per cent of total deaths a year. @Email:pmenon@thenational.ae