A recent BBC investigation has revealed alarming levels of toxic pollution due to gas flaring in the Gulf, posing a significant threat to millions of people. This revelation comes as the United Arab Emirates, a nation implicated in the practice, hosts the UN's COP28 climate summit.
The Widespread Impact of Flaring
Gas flaring, the process of burning waste gas during oil drilling, is prevalent across the Gulf region, including in the UAE, which ironically banned routine flaring two decades ago. New research indicates that the pollution from flaring is not confined to local areas but is spreading hundreds of miles, significantly deteriorating air quality across the region.
This environmental crisis is not limited to the UAE. The study also examined pollution from oil wells in Iraq, Iran, and Kuwait, with all countries involved either declining to comment or not responding to the findings. Major oil companies like BP and Shell, implicated in these practices, have stated they are working to reduce flaring.
The Human Cost and Global Implications
The human health implications of gas flaring are profound. Dr. Barrak Alahmad, a research fellow at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, conducted a two-year study analyzing Kuwait's air.
Contrary to common belief that most pollution in the region results from dust storms, his findings revealed that a significant portion comes from human-made sources, including power plants and the oil industry. The study found that only 40% of the region's pollution comes from desert sources, with the remainder largely attributed to man-made activities.
PM2.5 particles, a byproduct of this pollution, pose serious health risks, entering the bloodstream and affecting vital organs, potentially leading to acute asthmatic attacks and life-threatening conditions. This issue is further complicated by the role of gas flaring in global warming.
Flaring contributes significantly to the emissions of greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane, exacerbating climate change. The UAE, one of the UK's major oil suppliers, and Iraq, the second-highest flaring country globally according to World Bank data, are prominent contributors to this problem.
The findings of the BBC investigation, juxtaposed with the UAE's hosting of the COP28 climate summit, underscore a critical disconnect between proclaimed environmental commitments and the reality of ongoing practices in the Gulf.
As the world grapples with the urgent need for climate action, the gas flaring crisis in the Gulf represents a hidden but significant hurdle in the path to environmental sustainability.