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Pollution and your Health in Dubai

UMI looks at health and pollution in Dubai, as well as the different types of pollution and future improvements.



A city state within the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is located on the emirate’s northern coastline. Built on the back of the significant oil reserves, the Dubai government has shifted its strategy to more sustainable attempts to maintain the flow of foreign currency into the emirate with the primary driver of growth being tourism. Shining with luxury, mile-high skyscrapers and high-tech facilities, Dubai now stands as a shrine to capitalism with global visitorship consistently in the top ten cities in the world and growing at more than 10 percent per year.

Indeed, Dubai has become a testament to the ingenuity of man, with the construction of buildings and structures that defy what is considered the limits of human ability. It is home to the world’s tallest man-made structure, the towering 829.8 metre high Burj Khalifa; an indoor ski resort complete with penguins; a completely submerged underwater hotel; and even an archipelago of man-made islands that constructed to look like a series of palm trees.

Nonetheless, progress does not come without consequences. The rapid rate of urbanization and industry growth has had a profound impact on the environment, and consequently on the health of the people that live within Dubai:

Air Pollution

Due to an unprecedented period of development, Dubai has seen a significant increase in air pollution; while not at the same high level as rapidly industrializing countries, this pollution is still a major issue which Dubai must learn to content with. Generally caused by hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and oxide buildup, the main pollution culprits are the construction industry and the number of automobiles within the area.

One test of on-road vehicle emissions in Dubai found rates up to five times higher than in other areas of the world. These emission rates may be due to the fact that a large percentage of the vehicles in Dubai are over seven years old, and have not benefited from modern fuel conservation technology.

In 2007, a study concluded that during that past year, approximately 609 people (7 percent of all UAE fatalities)  had died of man-made air pollution. Sixty--two deaths were attributed to smog from car fumes and other air pollutants, however the greatest hazard, according to researchers, is tiny particulate matter. Consisting of sand, dust and chemicals, these particles are dangerous due to their size - small quick, this particulate matter can travel and penetrate deep within the lungs. Whilst sand and dust storms occur naturally in a desert country such as the UAE, construction activities can also stir up dust, and this may also be a factor in the 545 who researchers say died as a result of particulate matter pollution.

Beyond these fatalities, exposure to air pollution is responsible for a whole host of respiratory diseases such as bronchitis and asthma, and in fact a 2012 study concluded that one in eight people across the United Arab Emirates suffer from asthma.

Marine Pollution

Dubai has only two main sewage treatment plants for a city of 2 million people, and sanitation disposal is an issue that the city still struggles with today. One of the biggest wake-up calls to the importance of sewage treatment came in 2009. Dubai was growing rapidly in terms of economy and construction, however sewage infrastructure had not increased alongside this industrial growth. Sewage treatment facilities found themselves overwhelmed, long queues and delays at facilities were the norm, and so some frustrated tanker drivers resorted to illegally dumping sewage into storm drains. Unfortunately, these frains happened to flow straight into the Persian Gulf.

Besides the disruptions to tourism due to beach contamination, reports found shocking levels of E.coli and hepatitis, indicating a serious danger to health. There were additional fears regarding desalinization plants and clean drinking water, but by September 2009, the sanitation mess had been mostly cleaned up.

Light Pollution

When staring at the sky within or around Dubai, you will probably not see stars, as it is considered one of the most light-polluted cities in the world. With such a high density population, there is perpetually light throughout the city, spreading miles beyond the city itself. Light pollution presents issues such as energy waste, but light pollution can also have big effects on health.

Researchers have identified a number of health problems that occur due to light pollution, such as weakened vision as well as sleep related issues. New research in regards to circadian-rhythm disruption provides compelling links between light at night and increased incidences of some types of cancer.

The Future

Dubai has already made many improvements in terms of reducing pollution. As of 2009, January 18th has been designated Car Free Day, and every year on this day more than 3,500 government employees in Dubai use the Metro and buses to get to work in an effort to cut pollution levels. Even though a drop in overall pollution levels during just one day do not make a huge amount of difference to yearly pollution totals, the Car Free Day scheme encourages people to consider alternative forms of transportation when traveling to and from work. With exhaust fumes from cars making up around 42% of Dubai’s air pollution, alternative transportation may become more and more important to Dubai in the future.

Other measures have been implemented in order to try and curb auto-related air pollution. Cars more than 20 years old are no longer eligible for re-registration; the idea being that newer cars will be more environmentally conscious. Dubai has also begun to use fleets of electric taxis.

In terms of administration, the Environmental Protection and Safety Section (EPSS) section of the Dubai government continues to grow. The EPSS is especially interested in education - from children to business people, the EPSS is creating programs to educate Dubai residents about the importance of lowering pollution in the city.

Whilst there is no doubt that significant damage has been done to the environment, these initiatives show that Dubai is aware of its environmental impacts, and taking active steps to minimize their impact in the future. Through this range of measures, Dubai is balancing its need for growth and expansion with its environmental obligations to forge a country healthier for its people, and for the world.

 

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