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Atmosphere: West Asia

Air quality

The level of industrialization in West Asia is low in comparison with Europe and the United States but population growth, urbanization and an increase in oilrelated industries and other industrial activities have resulted in air pollution 'hot spots'. In the major cities and industrial compounds of West Asia, concentrations of the main air pollutants often exceed WHO guidelines by a factor of two to five (World Bank 1995).

The burning of fossil fuels is the main cause of atmospheric air pollution and the main source of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. It accounts for all West Asia's commercial primary energy production which increased from 665.5 million tonnes of oil equivalent (mtoe) in 1972 to 974.2 mtoe in 1997, while energy consumption increased from 27.0 to 229.5 mtoe over the same period (compiled from IEA 1999).

The cement industry pollutes the atmosphere
The cement industry, the major industrial source of CO2 emissions in the Mashriq sub-region, also emits large amounts of dust, covering nearby vegetation, endangering human health and ecosystems. In Lebanon, the cement industry is responsible for 77.2 per cent of all industrial emissions (Government of Lebanon 1998). In Syria, particulate emissions from one cement company near Damascus result in SPM levels exceeding guidelines within a radius of 3 km. This has caused thoracic and respiratory diseases among workers and nearby communities (CAMRE and UNEP 1997).

The main sources of air pollution in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are oil refineries, oil gathering centres, oil platforms, petrochemical and fertilizer plants, and motor vehicles. In the Mashriq countries, outdated technologies especially in power generation plants, fertilizer plants, smelters and cement factories have caused deterioration of air quality not only in industrial sites but also in nearby settlements. Amongst the air pollutants emitted, SPM is of great concern with levels well above maximum allowable concentrations. The economic loss due to the impact of poor air quality on human health in Syria is estimated at about US$188 million per year (World Bank and UNDP 1998). However, recent trends in West Asia, and especially in the GCC countries, are towards adopting cleaner production approaches in industry, especially in the large oil, petrochemical, fertilizer and metal industries.

Energy consumption and production: West Asia (million tonnes oil equivalent/year)

West Asian energy production has now exceeded its previous maximum in 1979; consumption continues to increase at around 3.5 per cent a year

Source: compiled from IEA 1999

The increasing number of vehicles, poor traffic management, ageing cars and congested roads in major cities add to the level of air pollution. Many vehicles are in poor condition and about 30 per cent are older than 15 years and produce significantly higher emissions of hydrocarbons and NOx than new ones (World Bank and UNDP 1998). Furthermore, leaded petrol is still in use in many countries, compounding health problems in cities and along major highways (World Bank 1995). To cope with this problem, some countries have taken measures to phase out leaded gasoline. Unleaded gasoline has been introduced to the GCC countries and Lebanon, and is the only fuel produced in Bahrain since July 2000 (BAPCO 2000).

Along with atmospheric pollution caused by human activities, seasonal sand and dust storms contribute to air pollution in West Asia in general and along the northern coasts of the Arabian (Persian) Gulf in particular (ROPME 1999). The dust storms absorb pollutants such as pesticides and can transport them for long distances with adverse effects on the environment, the economy and quality of life. It is estimated that the annual amount of dust fall-out along the coastal area of Kuwait may reach 1 000 tonnes/km2 with an overall mean concentration of 200 g/m3 (Khalaf and others 1980, EPA 1996).

Transboundary air pollution is an emerging issue in the region. Stricter measures and regulations to control emissions, to promote the use of modern and efficient technologies, and towards restructuring the price of energy resources must be taken to curb air pollution. Energy efficiency programmes in the power, petroleum, transportation, industrial, agriculture and residential sectors are needed to reduce energy consumption and associated emissions of greenhouse gases.