Gasping for air in Kabul


In winter, Afghanistan’s capital metropolis, Kabul, shouldn’t be for the faint-hearted—below-zero temperatures usually are not unusual and snowfalls are frequent and typically heavy. With a mean temperature of -1°C, January is the coldest month, with occasional drops to -25°C. Positioned at a excessive altitude of roughly 1,800 m above sea stage, in a slender valley between the Hindu Kush mountains, Kabul is one the world’s highest capitals.

Afghanistan has, for a few years, borne the brunt of a much-publicized protracted armed battle. In the meantime, away from the glare of publicity, Afghans—and particularly Kabul’s six million residents—are wrestling with one other silent however lethal killer: air air pollution.   

“Prior to now, the air was good and fewer contaminated in Kabul metropolis,” says Nadira Rashidi, a long-time metropolis resident. “We had a decrease inhabitants, and extra rainfall. Previous to the continued conflicts in Afghanistan, folks had been eager to plant bushes of their residential compounds and in communal areas. They had been additionally eager to take collective motion in cleansing completely different areas. That is known as hashar in Afghanistan.”

Like all main metropolis, Kabul has varied sources of air air pollution. For a number of weeks in a row, most frequently within the chilly winter months, town will get blanketed by a poisonous haze of particulate matter—small and sometimes invisible particles of mud and soot.

Underneath regular circumstances, heat air near the bottom steadily rises, carrying pollution with it and dispersing them. Nonetheless, when chilly air stays near the bottom—underneath a so-called thermal inversion—air pollution accumulates on the floor stage.

Sources of air air pollution embrace outdated automobiles, poor high quality gas, folks burning trash, industrial brick kilns, small-scale smelting vegetation and foundries. That’s along with air pollution coming from bakeries, eating places and marriage ceremony halls in addition to energy vegetation, turbines, family cooking stoves and heaters.

A complete evaluation of air air pollution in Kabul has not but been carried out. Nonetheless, there have been measurements to evaluate ranges of particulate matter, oxides of nitrogen, oxides of sulfur and carbon monoxide.

The federal government is chargeable for air high quality monitoring in Kabul and it’s now conducting spot monitoring of air high quality across the metropolis utilizing transportable tools.

Many individuals are additionally utilizing the AirVisual web site or its cellular app for data on Kabul’s air high quality. Nonetheless, this data could not all the time be dependable or consultant of the particular state of affairs, because it comes from a single information level in some of the congested areas of town. There may be thus a necessity for extra complete and correct monitoring of air air pollution to supply extra dependable information.

“Human beings play an vital position in polluting the setting. Ladies play an vital position on this regard as they have to increase and prepare their kids. With a rise in air air pollution, we’re seeing a brand new era whose development is stunted. Air pollution additionally negatively impacts pregnant girls and their unborn kids. Poisonous air additionally causes respiratory ailments and even most cancers,” says Nadira who can also be Head of Gender on the Nationwide Environmental Safety Company.

Woman Heating
Air air pollution impacts girls and women greater than males, significantly in creating nations the place they spend plenty of time at dwelling and are disproportionately affected by air pollution attributable to cooking, heating and lighting with strong fuels or kerosene. Photograph Credit score: Tahera Asa

In accordance with the State of World Air 2019 report, present ranges of air air pollution have decreased worldwide life expectancy by one yr and eight months. This implies an individual born at the moment will die 20 months sooner, on common, than can be anticipated within the absence of air air pollution. The report additionally notes that poisonous air reduces common life expectancy by virtually as a lot as tobacco use.

The issue posed by air air pollution has drawn the eye of Afghan legislators. In December 2018, the Wolesi Jirga, the nation’s Decrease Home of Parliament met officers from the Ministry of Public Well being and the Nationwide Environmental Safety Company to debate air high quality.

Monitoring Quality
Monitoring air high quality is a method wherein governments and metropolis authorities can deal with air pollution in addition to introducing subsidies for electrical automobiles, putting restrictions on fossil gas energy stations and introducing bans on probably the most polluting automobiles. Photograph Credit score Zahra Khodadadi

In response to those issues, and in session with the UN Help Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the UN Surroundings group in Kabul carried out a speedy evaluation of the focus of airborne particulate matter of 10 micrometres or much less in diameter (PM10) within the UN Operational Complicated in Afghanistan and the UNAMA Alpha Compound.

The evaluation comprised measurements taken each 15 minutes over a number of days in January and February 2019 underneath varied climate circumstances (clear and overcast skies, rain, snow, and so forth.). Measurements had been taken utilizing Thermo Fischer Scientific PDR 1000 screens that measure real-time presence of atmospheric particulate matter.

Within the UN Operational Complicated, indoor concentrations of PM10 had been 53.9 per cent decrease than out of doors concentrations with out use of an air air purifier. With an air air purifier, indoor PM10 concentrations that had been 98.9 per cent decrease than open air and 97.3 per cent decrease than indoor concentrations with out an air air purifier.

On the Alpha Compound, comparisons of the readings between open air and indoors revealed a major distinction, with indoor concentrations of PM10 being 36.4 per cent decrease than out of doors concentrations.

“The World Well being Group air high quality tips for PM10 take into account a mean of 50 µg.m‑3  per 24-hour interval as being permissible. The evaluation confirmed that utilizing an air air purifier might be very efficient in bettering indoor air high quality to evolve with World Well being Group tips,” says Dirk Snyman, UN Surroundings’s Motion on Local weather Professional in Afghanistan.

“Nonetheless, there may be want for a scientifically sturdy evaluation of air high quality utilizing a bigger variety of air high quality monitoring gadgets in a number of areas and over for much longer monitoring durations. The outcomes of this speedy evaluation are thus solely indicative and exploratory and needs to be interpreted as such,” says Snyman.

Because the starting of March 2019, UNAMA Mission Help has undertaken steady monitoring of airborne particulate matter within the UN Operational Complicated in Afghanistan utilizing an Aeroqual S500 monitor. Throughout this era, all readings had been beneath the WHO guideline values.

Study extra about the worldwide #BreatheLife marketing campaign, led by the World Well being Group, UN Surroundings and the Local weather & Clear Air Coalition, which helps a variety of cleaner air initiatives that cowl 55 cities, areas, and nations, reaching over 153 million folks.


Air air pollution is the theme for World Surroundings Day on 5 June 2019. The standard of the air we breathe is dependent upon the life-style selections we make on daily basis. Study extra about how air air pollution impacts you, and what’s being completed to wash the air. What are you doing to cut back your emissions footprint and #BeatAirPollution? 

The 2019 World Surroundings Day is hosted by China.


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