Construction pollutionby CW Guest Columnist on Oct 29, 2011
A glance at the Gulf region’s oversized carbon footprint serves as a chastening reminder of the long-term cost of turning empty dunes into modern-day metropolises.
The region already has one of the highest per capita carbon dioxide emission rates in the world: Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE and Bahrain currently take four of the five top spots in a global ranking, with energy-rich Qatar topping the list at a staggering rate of 12 times the global average, according to the International Energy Agency.
What Is more, the relentless urbanisation which has characterised the Gulf over the last few decades now poses a more immediate threat to its residents.
Pollutants from hundreds of thousands of construction projects risk contributing to a sustained deterioration in air quality. Across the region, respiratory diseases are soaring at an alarming rate, particularly among children.
According to the World Allergy Organisation, one in five children in the UAE suffers from asthma. They are growing up in a country which for a few years became synonymous with record-breaking construction projects.
They are watching as contractors go about the business of building: clearing land, running diesel and petrol engines, demolition, burning and working with toxic materials. And they may one day pay the price for another generation’s progress.
“The construction industry has a significant impact upon the environment throughout the Gulf,” says Reinhard Wilkes, vice-president of Operations at Bee’ah, a UAE-based integrated environmental firm, and one of the largest waste management companies in the region.
“It is a problem that is becoming more pressing with every passing day, and it is obviously up to companies within the industry to find ways of minimising this impact.”
All construction sites generate significant levels of dust from concrete, cement, wood, stone and silica, most of it invisible to the naked eye, but known to contribute to a wide range of health problems, including respiratory illness, asthma, bronchitis and even cancer.
The engine exhausts of vehicles and heavy equipment pump a selection of soot, sulphates and silicates into the atmosphere, along with carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide. And noxious vapours from oils, glues, thinners, paints, treated woods, plastics, cleaners and other hazardous chemicals widely used in construction add further to the cocktail of air pollutants present on any site.
Water pollution from sites is another significant concern. Surface water mixed with diesel and oil, solvents, cleaners and other harmful chemicals, as well as construction debris and dirt, filters into waterways and poisons wells.
And in the desert, of all places, there can be no complacency with regard to water supply: along with desalinated water, groundwater is used for drinking across the region. It is also a major source of irrigation for farmland.
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