View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The UAE: ‘No. 1 in the World’ for Air Quality

When CBS journalist, Steve Kroft interviewed Shaikh Mohammed on 60 Minutes this week [it aired on 14 October 2007] about his goal for Dubai the ruler said, “I want Dubai to be No. 1!” When asked to elaborate the Shaikh said, “I want to be number one in everything, higher education, health, housing…”

Kroft asked why he was in a hurry to achieve for Dubai in five years what most would try to achieve in a lifetime, to which the Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai indicated that the emirate could not afford to wait. “I want my people to live better now ... not after 20 years.”

One of the urgent priorities for Dubai and the UAE is to be No. 1 in the world for air quality.

A paper entitled Air Quality and Atmospheric Pollution in the Arab Region rightly recognizes that enhancing air quality is a task that must be tackled on a regional basis, not just country by country. The close proximity of Gulf and Middle Eastern countries makes this necessary and the common challenges of excessive heat, dust storms and low rainfall mean that it makes good sense to collaborate.

Much work has already been done by the Environmental Department of the UAE Government through limiting the excessive use of harmful gases, restricting the use of leaded fuel and banning the importation of many chemical insecticides. The move to establish a thorough public transport system is one way to limit the emissions from motor vehicles but this is a challenge for a country that has a high car registration rate and a nation that already holds the record for the number of cars per capita (see the blog posting, ‘UAE Holds World Record for Number of Cars’).

A recent report from the World Health Organization (5 October 2006) said that “air pollution is estimated to cause approximately 2 million premature deaths worldwide per year.” To increase the economy at the expense of human health is reminiscent of the folly in the old Middle Eastern story in which the older brother trades in his birthright (family ranking, inheritance etc.) to his younger twin, in return for some fast food—lentil soup.

Much more needs to be done for the UAE to be No. 1 in the world for air purity and UAE leaders should be encouraged to make this issue a priority. Shaikh Mohammed is right: “I want my people to live better now ... not after 20 years.” It is not a matter of accumulating records but protecting the health and enhancing the life of this nation’s residents.

Geoff Pound

Image: Dust storm near Liwa and Al Ain, UAE.