Four months into 2018 and climate change has already reiterated its presence in the world. While some parts of the world have felt the brunt of these climatic changes more than others, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is no exception. And although cities in the MENA region boast impressive economic growth, the region’s air pollution only exacerbates the impact of climate change, potentially hindering that growth.
According to a study published by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development, the MENA region’s air quality has been deteriorating significantly, with carbon dioxide levels almost doubling in recent years. Cities in the MENA region fared among the worst in terms of air quality in comparison to others. In fact, a number of cities in the MENA region are among the 20 cities with the worst air quality in the world, according to the AFED’s study.
The increase in CO2 levels can largely be attributed to a rise in demand for electricity, which shot up by 75.5 percent in 2015, allotting a total carbon emission of 755.5 million tons, up from 436.6 million in 2006. Air pollution in the region often exceeds by five to 10 times the recommended levels of pollution by the World Health Organization (WHO).
These levels have also increased exponentially due to the growth of the transportation sector. With little transportation infrastructure in place, the MENA region relies largely on cars and other motorized vehicles for transportation. Aside from Cairo, no other city in the region has an underground transport system in place. A large number of cities in the MENA region rely on informal transportation like shared taxis (service), microbuses, and auto rickaws (tuktuks) in addition to government-run buses.
One of the most damaging air pollutants floating around is PM2.5, which are tiny particles that are 1/30th the width of a human hair. These particles can penetrate deep into people’s lungs and are known to cause deadly illnesses such as lung cancer and heart disease.
The study also claims that levels of CO2 in cities in the MENA region actually decrease in times of armed conflict. This is largely attributed to the fact that, when war breaks out, infrastructure and daily life tend to come to a halt, limiting the amount of emissions released into the air. Dust particles and other residue from ammunition, however, continue to pollute the air in these cities.
There are cities in the MENA region, however, that have been working towards becoming more sustainable and green. The first Electric Vehicle (EV) charging station was installed in Egypt in February of this year in an effort to create an infrastructure for EVs in a city that is largely dependent on gas-driven vehicles. In Lebanon, a bike-share system consisting of 500 bikes and 25 docking stations was installed last year in Beirut.
Renewable energy has also become somewhat of a buzzword in the Arab World. Two of the largest solar farms have been announced in Dubai and in Morocco, proving to be a gamechanger for energy demand in the region due to the sharp increase in electrical consumption in cities across the Middle East and North Africa.