Published on 20 May 2012 at 10:53
Kabul’s air pollution proliferation problem is poisoning the city’s environment and transforming it into one of the dirtiest cities in the world. According to environmental analysts, each cubic meter of Kabul air is estimated to have 70 micro meters of dangerous gases, which is threatening the lives and health of its residents.
Based on the city’s master plan – a comprehensive urban development agenda – Kabul has been designed to accommodate 2 million residents through 2020. However, the Central Statistics Organization (CSO) reports that nearly 4 million people are now living in Kabul city.
“According to the census, the annual growth rate of population is estimated at 100,000 in Kabul city,” said Rahila Arif, the Head of Demography & Social Affairs Department at the CSO. “The population in Kabul city was 3.6 million in 2009, 3.7 million in 2010, and 3.8 million in 2011. It is estimated to be 3.9 million by the end of the year 1391 (2012-2013).”
Dr. Abass Basir, an environmental affairs expert and a former employee at the National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) of Afghanistan, believes that use of low qualify fuel materials is the main reason for rampant air pollution in Kabul city.
“The main reason for the city’s air pollution is the use of low quality fuel materials such as petrol and diesel for vehicles, generators and industrial factories,” he said. “60 to 70 percent of these fuel materials produce dangerous gases to contaminate the air. International environmental protection agencies reported that each cubic meter of Kabul air is estimated to have 70 micro meters of dangerous gases such as Carbon Monoxide and Leaden Pb.”
According to the survey held by Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 2006 and 2007, approximately 45 percent of Kabul residents are suffering from air pollution related ailments. The Ministry of Public Health reported that about 3,000 people die due to the air pollution in Kabul city every year.
The main reason for the city’s air pollution is the use of low quality fuel materials such as petrol and diesel for vehicles, generators and industrial factories.
Dr. Atta Mohammad Akbar Orya, Master in Public Health asserts that the dirty environment negatively affects the lives of people, particularly elderly people and children. “Due to the air pollution, Kabul residents may suffer from irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, headaches, nausea, and some allergic reactions. They will also be infected by upper respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia,” he said.
“The people with health problems may also suffer more when the air is polluted. Continual exposure to air pollution affects the lungs of growing children and may aggravate or complicate medical conditions in elderly people, and even cause damage to the brain, nerves, liver, or kidneys,” he added.
Kabul residents complain that during and after rain and snow the roads are full of mud and people face many transit problems. On the other hand, on sunny days the roads are very dusty and they can hardly see neighboring houses.
Mohammad Ishaq, spokesperson for the Kabul Municipality accepts the challenges, but argues that his office continues to implement the city’s master plan to clean up the environment. He explained that this year’s abnormally cold winter (coldest, in fact, in 25 years) and frequent rain have delayed their activities. “We have accelerated our activities and planted a million of trees this year alone to keep the environment clean. We plan to establish more parks and green areas.” he said.
Dr. Sahibnazar Muradi, an urban affairs expert and a former member of the Kabul Municipality Planning Committee, says that the city’s major environmental problems stem from rapid population growth, absence of city sewer system, and lack of adequate green areas. “The majority of green areas in the city have been seized by power brokers and constructed irresponsibly and haphazardly,” he said.
Ishaq concurs that the Municipality is constrained by these realities, including the absence of sewer system and poor construction backed by power brokers. “The municipality stopped the construction activities of Gulbahar Tower in Pul-e-Mahmood Khan area,” he said. “This building was illegally built by power brokers.”
“70 to 75 percent of Kabul residents have come from rural areas and built houses irresponsibly everywhere in the city,” said Mohammad Kazim Hamayoon, Deputy Head of NEPA. “This has resulted in contamination of the city environment and created a big challenge.”
According to Hamayoon, NEPA has made every effort to clean up the environment and increase public awareness. But, he emphasizes that clean up is a time consuming activity and demands more financial support. “Only US$850,000 has been allocated for NEPA this year and we can do nothing with this amount of money.”
70 to 75 percent of Kabul residents have come from rural areas and built houses irresponsibly everywhere in the city. This has resulted in contamination of the city environment and created a big challenge.
What should be done?
According to specialists, unpaved roads and streets in the city are a big problem, contributing to Kabul’s hazardous air pollution. It produces a lot of dust as huge numbers of vehicles pass by. Specialists say the most important first step is to construct paved roads.
“In my opinion, Kabul Municipality should make every effort to asphalt city streets in order to prevent dust and air pollution” said Muradi.
Dr. Abass agrees. “We will be able to reduce air pollution by 15 percent and reduce the annual mortality rate if these roads and streets are paved,” he said.
Ishaq says that the Ministry of Urban Development Affairs was previously responsible for the repair and maintenance of city roads and streets. But, the Council of Ministers recently decided to hand over this responsibility to the Kabul municipality. “Following the decision of the Council of Ministers, we have accelerated our roads repair and maintenance activities,” he said.
Ishaq explains that his office adopted strict measures to vet, monitor and ensure the quality of work of those private road construction companies who are contracted to pave city roads. “Kabul Municipality provides requirements and specifications when it signs contracts with private companies,” he said. “We dissolved our contract with the company responsible for asphalting Chamn-e-Hozori road and fined it US$60,000 for the low quality of their work.”
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