The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as it is officially called occupies the vast majorityof the Arabian Peninsula with a total land area of approximately 2,150,000square kilometres. As such, it is the largest sovereign state in Western Asia.In 2019 its population was around 35 million people. It is estimated that 50per cent of this population is under the age of 25 years making it one of the world’s youngest populations.
Towards the end of 2020, Saudi Arabia was experiencing “moderate” quality air,according to the levels recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Theaverage figure was 73 US AQI as published on the IQAir.com website. The concentrations of the PM2.5pollutant was over twice the WHO recommendations at 22.1 µg/m³. This “Moderate“figure was seen throughout the year with recorded levels between 12.1 and 35.4µg/m³ (micrograms or microns per cubic metre). The world ranking of pollutedcities placed Saudi Arabia at number 37 out of the 98 which were measured.
In accordance with the World Health Organisation's guidelines, the quality of airin Saudi Arabia is considered to be unsafe. Latest data indicates that thecountry's annual average concentration of PM2.5 is 88 µg/m3, whichconsiderably exceeds the recommended maximum of 10 µg/m3.
The main contributors to this poor quality air are emissions from both vehicles andindustry and from the naturally occurring dust storms. These dust storms are attheir worst during spring and can last from March through to May.
Outdoor air pollution is a mixture of chemicals, particulate matter, and biologicalmaterials that react with each other to form tiny hazardous particles, theworst being PM2.5 because of their microscopic size. The other particulatematter is known as PM10 because it has a slightly larger diameter than PH2.5.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended guidelines for these pollutantswhich should have an annual average of less than 10 µg/m³ for PM2.5 and 20 µg/m³ for PM10.
Urbanisation increases ground, water and air pollution as urban areas demand more and moredesalinated water. Unfortunately, the desalination process is extremelyinefficient and creates a large amount of “greenhouse gases”. The process of oil extraction adds to the poorair quality through the emission of large volumes of carbon dioxide (CO2).The city of Jeddah and other major cities are faced with problems caused by thelarge number of vehicles using the road. This leads to very high carbonemissions. Saudi Arabia has a very high standard of living and in order to keepto these standards, large amounts of fossil fuels are burned in privatetransport. Because Saudi Arabia is among the world’s top oil producers, theprice of gasoline is very cheap. Its young population can afford to buyexpensive cars with big, powerful engines as a status symbol. The cost of running them means nothing to them.
There is no public transport system in many of the cities which encouragesindividuals to use their private cars to commute. Because of this high level ofusage, dangerous levels of metals are found in urban soil. These metals areharmful to plants and humans. Plant growth is inhibited because of it andbecome poisonous if ingested because of the high metal content.
Wood is a primary resource commonly used in rural areas because of its widespread availability and its convenience. Wood burning for cooking and heating purposes contribute to air pollution.
Due to the growing population, more and more land is required for food productionwhich leads to deforestation, very often uncontrolled and illegal. However, TheMinistry of Environment, Water and Agriculture initiated a week ofenvironmental awareness. The events took place in over 13 provinces wherealmost a quarter of a million native trees were planted as replacements.
Renewable energy is something that Saudi Arabia is considering, although there arecurrently no incentives to lower the use of fossil fuels. The governmentsubsidises oil consumption but high oil use has encouraged new policiesregarding renewable energy sources. Power outages happen at times of peak loadand is commonly feared by the residents. The continued reliance on oil is notsustainable. This realisation encouraged scholars to plan ahead and find a wayof helping Saudi Arabia transition towards renewable energy. The country is currently ranked sixth in the world that demonstrates solar energy potential.
Solar energy is something being considered when their climate is taken intoconsideration. Saudi Aramco which is also known as the Saudi Arabian OilCompany has plans to develop a solar energy sector to achieve the goal ofproducing 41 GW of renewable energy. With a level such as this, it would beplaced as a leading solar energy exporter. In 2019, 17 MW were being producedbut they are working towards reaching that goal. Hydroelectricity and otherwater-based power production are currently under discussion. During last year(2019) Saudi Arabia signed agreements which would incorporate 400 MW of wind-generatedpower into its grid. The building of the largest wind farm in the Middle Eastis under construction in Dumat Al-Jandal which is in the Al Jawf region. $500million has been allocated to build this new installation. Once operational, itis hoped that it will supply up to 70,000 homes with sustainable electricityand show a reduction in carbon emissions of 880,000 tons annually.
It is foreseeable that Saudi Arabia will reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and encourage renewable energy use in the near future.
The city of Riyadh has invested a considerable amount of money in expanding itspublic service network. The Riyadh Metro project should become operational in2020/21. Environmentally-friendly busses are also planned for the city centre.The city needs to encourage more usage and offer incentives to those who use vehiclesharing services and carpool programmes as alternatives, along with a greater use of electric vehicles.
Riyadh has implemented four of five main principles aimed at improving the cityenvironment (compactness, integration, social inclusiveness and resilience toclimate change), which will classify it as a sustainably planned city, althoughthere is still a high reliance on cars. Creating more pedestrian zones andencouraging people to walk more will also bring benefits to the quality of air.
Cities such as Riyadh need to optimize their use of sustainable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower to meet their energy consumption needs.
In December 2020, the Saudi Arabian city with the cleanest air was Ghran in MakkahProvince with a reading of 89 US AQI, the concentration levels for PM2.5 were 30.2µg/m³ which is three times higher than the level recommended by the WHO.Because Ghran has no ground-level monitoring stations, these figures are based on satellite information.
Vehicular and industrial emissions are the major anthropogenic sources of air pollution.With vehicular emissions contributing up to 50% of the hydrocarbon emissions in the country.
Saudi Arabia almost encourages road transport; this is demonstrated by theconsiderably low cost of gasoline which was US$ 0.16 per litre in August 2012. Withprices as low as this, new car buyers will not consider how economical theirnew car could be, only how fast it will go! The country was estimated to have 4million cars on the road and 2.1 million commercial vehicles on the road in2013. More than half of the vehicles on the road are over 5 years old, andapproximately 22 per cent are more than ten years old. Vehicles of this agelack the new technology that makes many of the newer cars cleaner and more efficient.
The country’s growing youth population, rising disposable income levels, itsfavourable financing policies, and greater public and private sector investments,have all contributed to Saudi Arabia’s increased vehicle demand. Private carownership was high with 336 cars per 1000 individuals in 2012. This figure will be considerably more in 2020.
Air pollution from industrial installations emanates from the following; crude oilproduction, petroleum refining, basic petrochemicals industries, ammonia, cementmanufacturing, fertilizer, plastics, metals, commercial ship repairs,commercial aircraft repairs and the construction industry. In 2012 Ambient AirStandard was published and made mandatory which places limits on emissionswhich individual companies are made responsible for.
The best strategy for traffic management, inspection and maintenance programmes needs to be tackled at source.
The restriction of traffic to city centres of either private traffic or heavytraffic considerably reduces the high levels of pollutants in the air. If it isunfeasible to restrict large areas of the city, then smaller traffic-free areaswould make a small difference. Car restricted urban areas should be coupledwith more parking facilities, preferably underground, in order to optimize accessto dense traffic areas, such as the city centres. An efficient public transportnetwork will encourage more people to leave their cars at home and travel into the city by public transport.
Large manufacturing industries need to be encouraged to utilise other ways of movingtheir finished products instead of using lorries to move them to the airport orport for forwarding. The distribution of goods to local shops in cities remainsa problem, which could be solved by the delivery on small scale trucks with efficient energy-saving electric motors.
Removing subsidies and increasing taxes in order to reduce fuel consumption would increase government revenue and provide finance to improve public transportation services.
The improvement of the efficiency and cleanliness of existing vehicles which wouldhelp reduce fuel consumption and air pollution is necessary. Catalyticconverters and fuel-saving technology need to be fitted in order to decreaseair pollution and the exploitation of non-renewable fuels. Unleaded and naturalgas are already being used in many countries and increasing their use leads to lower polluting emissions.
Saudi Arabia is a country that is largely dependent on its production of oil.However, this oil and urban activities in Saudi Arabian cities are responsiblefor its polluted air. Whilst air pollution affects everybody, it is often thepoorer people that suffer the most. This group do not always have access togood medical care as it can be relatively expensive. Surprisingly enough, it is estimated that 20 per cent of Saudi Arabians live in poverty.
Regardless of the general quality of air in any country, the quality within the cityenvirons is always worse. The Saudi Arabian City of Dammam is onesuch city where air pollution is a severe problem. As with most cities, themain cause is the emissions from road vehicles. The General Department ofTraffic uses period vehicle checkpoints to monitor the emissions of randomvehicles. There are also plans to pave roads and create new bridges andunderpasses to help improve traffic flow. Vehicles waiting at busy junctionscan produce a lot of air pollution with their engines idling. Many drivers areloathed to turn off the engine, though as that would stop the air conditioningwhich is almost essential in the hot Middle Eastern countries.
These changes have already shown some positive effects such as the reduction involatile organic compounds (VOC), carbon monoxide (CO) and the fine particulatematter or PM2.5. Taking carbon monoxide as an example, levels in industrialisedareas dropped from 16ppm to 2ppm and volatile organic compounds fell from almost 0.8 ppm in 2010 to slightly above 0.2 in 2015.
Overall, the air quality in Dammam City is improving because of the government measures. This was reinforced through findings made by the Taibah University.
Having proved successful in one city, there should be no reason why it cannot be equally successful in other cities, too.