Kuwait is a country located on the northern edge of east Arabia, bordering other countries in the region such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia, as well as having a large amount of its landmass facing onto the Persian Gulf. Officially known as the ‘State of Kuwait’, it is a country with an extremely strong currency, with its Kuwaiti dinar being the currency of highest value worldwide, due to a strong economy backed by large oil reserves.
As one would expect with an economy heavily based around the use, extraction and exportation of oil, there would inevitably be a large amount of pollution coming from these activities, with both the industrial processing and exporting side of it as well as occasional disasters all contributing to the heightened levels of pollution made visible in Kuwait's yearly readings.
In 2019, Kuwait came in with a PM2.5 average of 38.30 μg/m³, placing it into the ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups bracket’, one that requires a PM2.5 reading of anywhere between 35.5 to 55.4 μg/m³ to be classified as such. Although it is on the lower side of this grouping, being only a few units away from moving down to the ‘moderate’ ratings bracket (12.1 to 35.4 μg/m³ required), it is still in a fairly undesirable ratings bracket, which as the name implies, carries negative health implications for many at risk portions of the population.
These at risk or sensitive groups would include people such as young children, the elderly, as well as those with preexisting health problems or compromised immune systems being particularly vulnerable to the heightened levels of pollution.
Kuwait's 2019 reading of 38.30 μg/m³ placed it in 13th place out of all countries ranked worldwide, coming in just behind other countries such as United Arab Emirates, and China, with its close proximity to China indicating that Kuwait's air pollution issues are indeed fairly prominent (due to many of China’s cities taking high rankings of the global city chart).
There are only two cities registered in Kuwait, Kuwait City and Salwa respectively. Both came in with similar readings of 38.3 μg/m³ for Kuwait City, and 32.2 μg/m³ for Salwa. This placed Kuwait City into 259th place out of all cities ranked worldwide, and Salwa in 375th place. These are fairly high placings, and whilst they do not share the same catastrophic levels of pollution that other cities in nearby countries do, they are indicative that there are a large amount of air pollution problems going on in Kuwait, with the reasons as to why being explored in short.
There are multiple reasons that all come together to contribute to the year round readings, with many instigating factors all contributing small amounts that compound together to create the elevated readings seen throughout the different months of the year (with some months, particularly in the capital, Kuwait City, going up to fairly hazardous levels of pollution). Aside from these smaller factors all skewing the readings, there are the more pertinent ones that will be addressed.
The main one that is damaging the quality of air in Kuwait the most is that of the oil industry, with the burning of fossil fuels, alongside the extraction, drilling and fracking, storing and exporting all being the largest causes of pollution in the country. There have been incidents in the past (and a constantly looming threat of further ones occurring) of the oil catching fire in its storage areas. These storage sites are usually large reserves of land where the oil is left until it is ready for further use or exportation, and in the cases of where these reserves have caught fire, the results have been disastrous, causing large amounts of widespread health issues for people living in Kuwait as well as irreversible damage to the environment, damaging vast swathes of land and rendering it uninhabitable for both humans and wildlife, as well as vegetation.
The subsequent fallout from these oil fires also causes damage to the upper ozone layer, which in turn leads to climate change taking place, creating more pollution related issues down the line (with greater amounts of sunlight and solar radiation breaking through, allowing dangerous pollutants such as ozone, better known as smog, to form on the ground level. Of note that it is a vital compound when found in the upper atmosphere, but a dangerous pollutant when on ground level).
Moving on from the oil based problems present in Kuwait, the rapid increase in urban development coupled with economic growth also has a large part to play in the pollution readings, with the already dry and arid environment of the region compounding the air quality further. Though not anthropogenic in nature (manmade), natural occurrences such as sandstorms can also cause massive pollution spikes to occur, due the large amounts of fine particulate matter being blown into the air, with finely ground gravel, sand and silica particles all able to cause large amounts of damage to any of those who inhale it. These are some more location and nature based causes of elevated pollution levels.
As mentioned, with a rapidly growing economy, infrastructure and population, there would be a subsequent large increase in the use of vehicles, with huge amounts of cars and motorbikes inhabiting the roads, often running on older and more outdated engines, not subject to the same international standards and regulations for safe pollution output.
The same goes for the fuel that they use, with less stringent measures in place to prevent the use of low quality of leaded fuels, as well as prevalent use of diesel fuels. Of note is that there would be significant fuel subsidies available, and as a result over reliance on personal vehicles would be a significant factor in raising car based fumes and pollution.
To go into further detail on pollution caused by cars, the answer is a resounding yes that vehicle use would be a driving factor behind the heightened pollution readings, with the oil industry not being the sole factor in Kuwait's air quality crisis.
Besides personal vehicles such as cars and motorbikes populating the roads, there would also be the problem of so called heavy duty vehicles, ones that are of a particular weight and size that include buses, trucks and lorries. Due to the mass exportation of oil and oil related products (as well as the industrial materials being brought into the country for use in the creation of extraction or processing equipment), these heavy duty vehicles would be in large use across the country, and as with the cars, would be subject to less strict rules regarding the age of their engines as well as the fuels they run on. With an abundance of fossil fuels in the region, many of them would be using diesel as a fuel, which can produce more pollution than ‘greener’ or non fossil fuel alternatives.
These heavy duty vehicles, as well as normal cars that run on diesel, can contribute to pollutants in the air such as black carbon and volatile organic compounds (VOC's), both of which are created through the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels and organic matter (and thus can also be created from the burning of organic waste or materials such as wood).
Black carbon is a known carcinogen, and is a major component in soot, often visibly present coming out in large quantities from the backs of old tanker trucks and outdated lorries, covering the road and areas that see a high level of traffic with thick black layers. As such, vehicles also have a prominent part to play in pollution levels in Kuwait, as they do in many countries round the world.
In 2020, the cessation of mass movement due to covid-19 related lockdowns saw massive improvements in air quality in many cities and countries worldwide, with mountains becoming visible from certain cities that haven’t been seen in over 20 years (as happened in India) as well as pollution levels being cut in half, in particular nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels falling as well as sulfur dioxide (SO2) going down as well.
This is indicative of the prominent effect that vehicular emissions and fumes have on air quality, and how initiatives to reduce their usage would have a prominent effect on many countries round the world, with Kuwait of course being one of them.
With fairly high year round readings of pollution occurring, and even certain months in the capital going up as high as 55.7 μg/m³, putting that month into the ‘unhealthy’ ratings bracket, which requires a reading of anywhere between 55.5 to 150.4 μg/m³ to be classed as such, it is without a doubt that there would be a large amount of negative health consequences available.
As the name of the group bracket for the 55.7 μg/m³ reading implies, the air quality during this time is most definitely unhealthy for any portion of the population, regardless of preexisting health levels or conditions. Some adverse health effects that may arise as a result would be ones such as rapid aging or scarring of the lungs, with large amounts of chemical compounds as well as fine particulate matter in the air all able to cause these ailments.
The previously mentioned nitrogen dioxide can cause both irritation and damage to the lung tissue, and black carbon can cause scarring, lessened lung capacity as well as further issues if it passes through into the blood stream.
With this rapid aging and scarring of the lungs occurring, not only is the lungs full capacity and function reduced, but those afflicted also become more susceptible to further respiratory issues such as pneumonia, bronchitis, emphysema as well as aggravated forms of asthma. These all fall under the ‘chronic obstructive pulmonary disease’ bracket, or COPD for short, an umbrella term that covers a wide variety of chronic respiratory disorders that generally affect the lungs ability to function at full capacity.
Other issues outside of the respiratory tract would be instances of ischemic heart disease, a problem that occurs when the tissues of the heart fail to receive adequate amounts of oxygen. Other cardiac issues would include increased risks of heart attacks as well as arrythmias, making those with preexisting heart conditions more susceptible to early deaths.
To mention a very sensitive to pollution demographic, that of pregnant mothers, there come a whole host of significant problems. Whilst babies are in the womb, if the mother is exposed to large enough amounts of pollution over long periods of time, there will be a large spike in infant mortality rates. Chances of miscarriage occurring will go up, alongside instances of babies being born prematurely with a low birth weight, as well as both cognitive and physical defects having the chance of being present.
These are but a few of the health problems that may occur in Kuwait when pollution levels are particularly high. Due to this, preventative measures become increasingly important for those wishing to protect their health, and the use of air quality maps as available on the IQAir website as well as the AirVisual app may help individuals to stay up to date on pollution levels, something of great importance when making decisions as to whether it may be better to stay indoors or go out, or if one needs to go outdoors, wearing a particle filtering mask as a form of protection may be a good initiative to go by.
Observing the data taken over 2019 once again, between the two cities registered, there emerges a pattern of when pollution levels are elevated and when they are slightly lower. When comparing the two cities, it is apparent that they both share similar trends, albeit with Kuwait City being in general far more polluted than Salwa.
The months that came in with the highest levels of PM2.5 were from August through to December, with the beginning months of the year also showing elevations in their readings, indicating that the subsequent rise of pollution in August would continue through until the next year, before slowly abating around March, whereby the ‘cleaner’ period would be started and sustained until August again.
July in Kuwait City came in with a PM2.5 reading of 31.6 μg/m³. This jumped significantly in the following month up to 41.5 μg/m³ in August, hovering around this reading until October when the highest reading in the whole country was recorded at 55.7 μg/m³. This is indicative that the pollution levels are worst at the very beginning of the year, then mid to end of the year again, with a brief period of lower pollution levels in March through to July. The cleanest reading taken in the entire country during 2019 was 20.6 μg/m³, recorded over July in Salwa, still far from optimal but a significant improvement over the worst month.