Air pollution is a big problem in the Middle East particularly in cities such as Tehran, Cairo and the rich Gulf nations. The latest images from NASA, however, reveal the true extent of the problem with high concentrations of nitrogen dioxide lingering over cities and hospitals full of people with lung ailments.The NASA map above highlights the concentration of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere in the first week of January 2013. Dark patches of orange reflect a high concentration of nitrogen dioxide which is a key emission from burning fossil fuels by cars, trucks, power plants and factories. I was really struck by these findings as Green Prophet writer Joseph Mayton published an article in late January after struggling with asthma attacks in Cairo. Surely not a coincidence?
“The doctor I went to and nursed me back to good health, was clear about what was causing my near constant asthma attacks: air pollution,” explained Mayton in his post.
“Unable to leave my flat during the day, I suffered and waited for my lungs to open and become used to the pollutants in the air. Finally, after nearly a week of treatment, I was in the clear and back able to walk the streets of Cairo. But it left me wondering the affects of pollution and asthma on Egyptians in the city.”
In a word, the impact of air pollution on the region is devastating. It kills 27 people a day in Tehran and it is believed that thousands, if not millions, of Egyptian children suffer asthma-related illnesses that go untreated. Air pollution also happens to be a bigger problem in the cold winter months. As NASA explain, during the winter people burn more fuel to keep warm and if that fuel is coal then you are left with more smog-producing compounds.
“In most times of year, the air higher in the atmosphere is cooler than the air near the ground, allowing warm air to rise and carry pollution up and away from its source,” they explain. “But in the winter, temperature “inversions” can form, where the air near the ground is cooler than the air at altitude. Polluted surface air rises a bit, but then runs into warmer air masses above and stays trapped near the surface.”
In sum, we are left with more pollution hovering over cities and the heads of its inhabitants.