The Middle East, North Africa and West Asia region, are responsible for the production of a major portion of the world’s crude oil. Despite this fact, some countries in the region house some very old refineries and have fuel standards that are much less stringent on sulphur and additive content, when compared to those of developed and western countries. This situation coupled with a sometimes aging and growing vehicle population is responsible in part for serious urban air pollution in the cities of Arab states. Studies estimate that urban air pollution is responsible for some 800,000 annual deaths globally. Further damage to health of inhabitants, the environment, heritage sites and agriculture from urban air pollution are estimated to cost national economies some 2 to 7 % of their GDPs annually (World Bank).
Lead , a gasoline additive, is a toxin to humans, effecting vital organs and the nervous system; furthermore, its use in gasoline does not allow for the implementation of the catalytic converter, a device fitted to vehicle exhausts that can remove up to 90 % of harmful pollutants from the car’s exhaust stream. The other major pollutant that occurs naturally in fuel is sulphur, in engine combustion; sulphur is responsible for the emission of corrosive pollutants that are responsible for asthma exasperation, reduced visibility and damage to buildings and vehicle components. The Middle East has some of the highest fuel sulphur content, being as high as 3.5 % in certain countries.
This meeting was hosted jointly by the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles and the Asian Clean Fuels Association . The gathering learnt from the pooled experiences of countries in the region and international experts and arrived at possible national plans of action to alleviate the growing scale of urban air pollution in Arab cities caused by vehicles, some of which are amongst the worst in the world. UNEP offices in Bahrain, Nairobi and Cairo were instrumental to the organisation of this meeting, this conference is seen as a first step of many steps to come in a process to bring about better air quality for the Arab states.