Afghanistan's Struggle with Air Pollution

In a new series of policy briefs, our YLFees discuss current political challenges and recommendations

Air pollution in numerous countries is a threat to good health; many major illnesses and diseases are caused by air pollution, which is also a major concern in the Kabul province. After many people from most provinces migrated to the Kabul province, it has become the most populated amongst Afghan provinces. Furthermore, the use of highly toxic and carbon-producing material by factories, local workers, households, and others increases the threat of health hazards, thus being a major issue regarding the health of all people living in Kabul province. It is recommended that the government notice this issue and adopt a mechanism for air pollution prevention.

Below is the list of challenges that the government faces in preventing air pollution that it needs to address:

  • The use of unstandardized and unfiltered fuel, gas, and oil for producing energy and heat
  • Large buildings and hotels using unstandardized heating systems without installing filter systems
  • The excessive working hours of large factories that need to be limited
  • Lack of awareness of the unhealthy side-effects of fueling through raw materials and rubber
  • Effects on the ecosystem for birds and other animals

This brief gives insight into what the government needs to consider towards attaining a solution to the current challenges and setting targets for prevention mechanisms against air pollution.

Afghanistan is one of the countries that face unhealthy air pollution problems and has long been suffering from unhealthy air. Many major cities, like Jalalabad and Kabul, are heavily populated. The amount of gas and fuel being used are high in these cities. People mostly use vehicles for transportation, even in the industrial areas close to the residential and working spaces. The roads get heavily rushed after working hours. Increased emissions are making it difficult to breathe. People wear masks to prevent breathing polluted air, but that also doesn't stop them from becoming sick.

Kabul is the capital of Afghanistan, a popular destination either for leisure or for accommodation. Furthermore, being the center of trade and a major industrial area, labor and transportation are heavily active. Also, many people have moved to Kabul from the provinces due to security and other issues, which has made Kabul one of the most heavily populated and busy cities of Afghanistan.

The air of Kabul is heavily polluted. The pollution is caused by diverse reasons, has a negative impact on daily life and causes various diseases. It is also said to cause more deaths than other deadly causes such as Taliban attacks, traffic accidents or mafia killings. According to the Public Health Report, more civilians die every year as a result. People die from a minor illness because the air is so dense and polluted that the sick are unable to convalesce.

According to an international report, Kabul is one of the most polluted cities in the world, with the highest number of deaths due to excessive use of raw materials and other carbonaceous substances.  Also, there is no professional system for treating wastewater and materials professionally, which can lead to further pollution. According to a report by the Kabul Municipality, six cubic meters of density is produced every day, with the municipality having the capacity to eliminate or reduce only five cubic meters of density, and it is not possible to completely eliminate this density of pollution.

The manifestations and dangers of air pollution:

What is pollution, and how is it caused?

Human actions

houses, towns, tall buildings, factories, government and non-government institutions, hotels, wedding halls, public spas, regression, vehicles and other non-standard and substandard materials (coal), burning crude oil, wood, tires, plastic, rubbish

Natural disasters

storms, wild forest fires, volcanoes, chemical substitution, pollination, acid rain

Challenges and dangers that air pollution may cause

The combustion of these materials produces some harmful gases and chemical particles, including:

  • Sulfur dioxide
  • Nitrogen dioxide
  • Particulate matter
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Ozone depletion
  • Lead

Environmental challenges: These toxins have a detrimental effect on human life and all animals and plants. For example, sulfur dioxide, which is released from water droplets during rain, combines with and acidifies rainwater causing acid rain to burn and destroy crops and plants.

Global Warming: Carbon monoxide (CO) that reacts with the ozone layer due to its weight loss and causes degradation, which in turn causes global warming.

Human health and life: Due to the lack of volume, these toxins easily enter the human body through the respiratory system, which then enters the bloodstream and causes the following diseases.

  • Chronic abstractive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Emphysema
  • Bronchitis
  • Bronchiectasis
  • Asthma
  • Cold and Flu
  • Heart disease
  • Still-birth
  • Eye Disease
  • Skin diseases

To acquire relevant data on the current pollution density in the Kabul province and the amount of pollution particles from different elements, the study used secondary data from the National Environmental Protection Agency to show the figures indicating the standard level's incrementation. The data provided by NEPA illustrates the number of pollutant particles from elements causing pollution and are the reason for health diseases. It can be seen that among the number of particles from suspended particles within a diameter of 10 microns and 2.5 microns in a month, NO2, CO and SO2 is evidenced to surpass the standard level and at a higher rate thus causing significant emissions that profoundly affect the Ozone layer.

The Kabul administration's environmental health and local authorities claim that it is a concerning situation, even as they claim that air pollution has reduced compared to the last two years. Still, pollution remains a significant threat; furthermore, the long-lasting winter is the main reason for devastating air pollution where people use oil and gas to an extreme level and without filtration.

As the residents call on the government to deal with the problem, the air becomes almost unbreathable. The fumes cause the air to get foggy in the most active hours. Residents of the local area at Deh-Afghanan claim that if the number of vehicles transported into Kabul province. The use of unstandardized burning material does not stop from entering Kabul. It will soon have many of its residents affected by incurable diseases even as people struggle to afford treatment. The beauty of Kabul is drowned in the fumes of unhealthy air.

Based on the World Health Organization's annual report, about 26,000 people in Afghanistan lose their lives because of air pollution-caused diseases. This is a nationwide concern for the health sector and is still a significant challenge to tackle, but no mechanism exists to prevent such devastation. Moreover, about 3,000 people die every year within the capital of Afghanistan due at least in part to dense air pollution.

This is a significant concern for people, with more than half of the population complaining about the health hazard and especially true of the working class, who has to go out in the field and is thus most affected, especially in winter when people rely most on fuel and heat-producing materials.

Recommended Solutions:

Prominent environmental health experts and specialists have given their views on what can be done and how to resolve air pollution. These specialists from the National Environmental Protection Agency, Kabul municipality, and Kabul traffic authority have mutual opinions on the below recommendations:

  • Installation of filters and developing a proper mechanism to eliminate air pollution in heavily populated and tall buildings that use the central heating system
  • Changing the system of non-standard fuel materials (wood and coal) to standard fuel materials (liquefied gas)
  • Continuous checkups and controls of emissions and smoke-producing vehicles at every traffic point
  • Checking and controlling government smoke-producing vehicles
  • Preparation of standards and criteria for the production of standard fuel materials (refined coal and petroleum products)
  • Relocation of regressions, factories, and other CO2 emitters from residential areas to convenient locations away from residential areas
  • Cleaning of roads and sub-roads by the municipality
  • Establishment of an operational group of related ministries and agencies for an action plan to reduce air pollution
  • Awareness-raising about the air pollutant materials and legislation through media, social media, and other networks

Irfanullah Shinwari is a member of the 2020/21 Young Leaders Forum.

This article has also been published in Dari by Afghanistan Today. The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and not necessarily those of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.



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