Oil pollution from COP28 hosts UAE, other Gulf countries putting health of millions at risk: report

Oil pollution from COP28 hosts UAE, other Gulf countries putting health of millions at risk: report
Residents of the Gulf, Iraq and Iran are likely to suffer from respiratory diseases and cancer, due to high levels of air pollution caused by gas flaring in the region.
3 min read
29 November, 2023
The UAE and Iraq are among the highest contributors of oil-related air pollution in the Middle East [Getty/file photo]

Toxic air pollution from leading oil companies has spread hundreds of kilometres across the Middle East, directly impacting local populations, revealed a new BBC Arabic investigation.

The toxic air, caused by gas flaring, was emitted from companies such include Shell, BP and ADNOC, putting at risk the health of millions across the Gulf, Iraq and Iran.

Among those affected are residents of the UAE, where substantial levels of flaring were found at ADNOC’s sites, reaching the heavily populated cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the investigation revealed.

Flaring occurs when oil field operators release associated gas that accompanies oil production into the atmosphere. The practice was criticised by climate groups as it can contribute to acid rain, low-level ozone and smog formation, as well as being a waste of valuable natural resources that could be used for power generation.

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Pollution as a result of flaring severely impacts health and can cause or worsen cancer, respiratory, lung and heart diseases, among others.

Respiratory diseases were among the leading causes of death in the region, with rates of asthma in the UAE being among the highest in the world.

A respiratory doctor in the country described to the BBC his surprise at how pollution levels are impacting people's health in the country.

"Normally, if you have flu, you cough for four or five days and then the cough is gone. In the UAE, it takes a week, two weeks and something we need to give them inhalers to remove a simple cough."

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Gas flaring is also common in Iraq, where fears over an increase in respiratory diseases have increased dramatically.

Meanwhile, in Kuwait, the practice also impacts the atmosphere, where dust storms are a common phenomenon due to high levels of pollution, exacerbated by oil production.

Flaring, which includes PM2.5 particulates and nitrogen dioxide, exceeds World Health Organization (WHO) limits, scientists said.

The practice is supposed to be carried out in emergency cases only, but the BBC's research found evidence indicating that gas flaring is a routine occurrence in these countries.

Data provided by scientists Arianet, in collaboration with the British broadcaster, showed that leading oil-producing countries such as Iraq, the UAE, Kuwait and Iran are releasing or partially burning 36.6 billion cubic metres of gas into the atmosphere.

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The above countries also supply 15 percent of the global oil demands.

This comes as the UAE is set to host the upcoming COP28 summit later this week, after positioning itself as a global leader in fighting climate change. Abu Dhabi has also been faced with criticism for having ADNOC CEO Sultan al-Jaber as the COP28 president, who himself has pledged to phasing out the practice two decades ago.

Despite promises from Abu Dhabi, Baghdad and so on to reduce gas flaring this decade, the BBC’s investigation found that no steps have taken place.