Saudi Arabia is famous for its oil reserves that are the second largest in the world. Over the last decades, the Kingdom experiences a rapid economic growth that has resulted in a substantially higher per capita income, the absence of public debt, and a healthy balance of trade. However, the aforementioned changes negatively influenced country’s natural resources and environment. In fact, according to the report of World Health Organization, the quality of air in Saudi Arabia is critically low. Obviously, the Kingdom is in a great need to protect its environmental health, and, thus, it requires implementation of major initiatives to ensure progress in the environmental sustainability of the country.
Air pollution is a threatening environmental problem of modern society and is the main contributor to the environmental impairment of Saudi Arabia. It causes damage to the ozone layer and is among major reasons for global warming. Air pollution is predominantly a result of human activities that entail mining, transportation, construction, agriculture, industrial work, and smelting. Regarding natural processes that influence the quality of air, they are volcanic eruptions and wildfires. Obviously, natural sources of air pollution are not as significant as anthropogenic (caused by people), because in the first case, air spoils the local territory and in relatively small amounts. The most dangerous to the environment are pollutants stemming from different human activities that take place all over the globe and contaminate the atmosphere on a big scale. It is well-known that polluted air negatively affects human health, depending on the level of exposure and the type of pollutant inhaled. The most common symptoms are coughing, irritation of the respiratory tract, asthma, and chronic lung diseases (Environmental Pollution Centers, 2017). Air pollution can also cause skin problems in case of prolonged exposure to some air pollutants. Moreover, according to Environmental Pollution Centers, different forms of cancer may develop after inhaling dangerous air contaminants (2017).
Air contamination is also determined as the presence of toxic substances or compounds in the air at levels that are dangerous to human health. Naturally, air is clean, and the presence of harmful compounds in it speaks for the influence of external factors on the condition of air that have caused detrimental changes to the quality of life of all living creatures. According to Taher and Hajjar (2014), the environmental health of Saudi Arabia is worsening with every passing year, and one can observe the tendency of damage in the Figure 1 (see Appendix). There is a direct relationship between energy consumption and the environmental pollution in Saudi Arabia as shown in the Figure 2 (see Appendix). It is clear that the main reasons for CO2 emissions in the Kingdom come from power and electricity sector, transport sector, and the industrial construction sector correspondingly (for more information, see Figure 3 in the Appendix).
The indicator of air pollutants in Saudi Arabia is one of the highest in the world – 127 PM2.5 (World Health Organization). The data was estimated last time in 2014, and the index 127 is the mean annual concentration of fine suspended particles of less than 2,5 microns in diameter (World Health Organization). Particulate Matter (PM)2,5 are fine particles in the ambient air 2.5 micrometers or less in size. It means that these tiny flecks are small enough to intrude even in very narrow airways. Such particles are results of fossil fuels burning, such as traffic, metal processing, or smelting.
The Arabian Desert occupies a large territory of Saudi Arabia, featuring extremely hot weather. The biggest part of local citizens prefers buying massive vehicles to endure harsh climate conditions. Notably, people tend to purchase private automobiles, because they are more conformable in comparison with the public transport. However, large cars consume a greater amount of gas and correspondingly pollute air more intensively. As it is illegal for women to drive, a typical family in Saudi Arabia needs to take one or two vehicles to bring all members to the destination. In fact, many people from South Asian countries have a special job, namely driving for Saudi women (CBS News, 2017). An analyst for U.S. Cox Automotive who studied Saudi Arabian market states that there are already enough vehicles as their initial purpose is to drive women, and, in her opinion, it would be rational to give woman rights to drive themselves (CBS News, 2017). Therefore, due to a variety of advantages and social laws, automobiles, which are highly prevalent in the country, negatively contribute to air pollution. The extensive usage of vehicles in Saudi Arabia cause extreme smog, which affects the quality of air; furthermore, harsh weather conditions amplify the situation. In fact, city Riyadh is on the list of 10 worst cities for smog. The Central Department of Statistics and Information shows that Saudi Arabia imported more than 1 million of vehicles, that is 2,5 percent higher than in the previous year. In early 2015, there were 6.6 millions of vehicles registered in the country (Oxford Business Group, 2017). In addition, the price for the fuel is third cheapest in the world, making this type of transportation the most popular in the country.
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Apart from negative consequences of exhaust gases, oil production also contributes to the deterioration of the environment of Saudi Arabia. Petroleum refinery stations distill crude oil into many products, such as diesel, gasoline, jet fuel, kerosene, and asphalt. Obviously, liquefied oil evaporates discharging dangerous pollutants into the atmosphere. Additionally, different auxiliary installations, namely sulfur recovery units, sulfuric acid plants, boilers, heaters, and fluid catalytic cracking units, also emit toxic substances like nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2). The process of burning results in emissions of SO2, greenhouse gases, and other toxic pollutants, such as volatile organic complaints (VOCs). The latter negatively influences human health and causes nose, eyes, and throat irritations, nausea, loss of coordination, headaches, as well as problems with kidney and liver (Hesperian Health Guides, 2017). Moreover, hazardous emissions from leakages and flares are so toxic that they can even cause cancer and birth defects. To control the situation with air quality near refinery stations, it is advisable to hire proper experts and provide them with modern equipment. Furthermore, it is required to locate up-to-date pollution control equipment and detectors of leakages near oil refineries to reduce harmful evaporation and to prevent the development of catastrophic instances.
Certainly, it is hard to imagine modern society without motor vehicles, especially oil-rich Saudi Arabia. Since public transport in the Kingdom is discouraged, cars are the most popular type of transportation in this country. In addition, gas is relatively cheap, because Saudi Arabia is the world’s primary producer of gasoline. Moreover, most of its citizens are rich people who possess luxury cars as an attribute of their social status. Therefore, it is impossible to imagine them refusing from driving cars for the benefit of the environment. However, it is advisable to inform the population about the potential harm of air pollution and their role in solving this problem. In fact, Asas Abu Raziza, an associate professor, believes that apprising people of the environmental protection and familiarizing them with the term of “overconsumption” in schools and commercial complexes is very significant (Arab News, 2015). As the condition of air in the country is only worsening, it is vitally important to take actions and reduce the pollution of air and environment in general.
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In March of 2014, the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment (PME) proclaimed a decree encouraging all companies to reach new air, water, and noise pollution standards within five years (McCullough, 2014). It means that all organizations must approve international benchmarks standards to preserve Saudi’s environmental health and natural resources. Abdul Aziz Al-Jasser, the PME general manager, said that those businesses that had refused to comply with country’s new requirements within five years would face closure or suspension for three months (McCullough, 2014). In fact, Faisal Alfadl, the Secretary-general of the Saudi Green Building Forum (SGBF), added that it is a big step forward in the environmental protection of the country, which would help to reduce dangerous carbon emissions and improve public safety and health (McCullough, 2014). Saudi Arabian engineers planned to retrofit over 90000 mosques promoting the green building techniques. In such a way, they would reduce lighting and energy consumption up to 80% (McCullough, 2014).
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Obviously, the government of Saudi Arabia plays the main role in the improvement of the condition of air and environment in the country. Since it is impossible to stop oil extraction and extensive car usage to reduce the pollution of the environment, it is reasonable to take other actions. For example, it would be advisable to incentivize carpooling – a practice when two or more people contribute money to a common trip. However, the government should support such innovations and encourage them in different ways. For example, cars with one or more passengers will have a right to park in special free parking places or will not have to wait in lines to receive a particular type of service, like a car wash or refilling. Another way to improve the quality of air in Saudi Arabia is planting trees. It is a common knowledge that forests have the ability to condition the atmospheric environment. Moreover, vegetation helps to regulate temperatures, humidity, and air movement. It can also absorb pollutants in a natural way and exchange gases: plants consume carbon dioxide, transform it into food, and release oxygen. Unfortunately, urbanization and industrial expansion influenced the number of trees in Saudi Arabia. Deforestation was the result of the increased demand for food, and people cleaned the territory to grow more products. Therefore, planting trees in rural areas can significantly reduce the negative effects of air pollution.
In addition, it would be beneficial to encourage citizens to use other types of transportation, such as railway, buses, and electric cars. The latter could be an efficient solution to fighting the problem of air pollution in Saudi Arabia. In fact, during his interview, Faisal Alfadl highlighted that it was necessary to increase eclectic car usage in the country (McCullough, 2014). Indeed, electric cars are cheap in operation, quiet, quick while driving, and possible to recharge at home. However, the major advantage of such type of transportation is that it produces much less harmful emissions in comparison with internal combustion engine vehicles. Undoubtedly, the popularization of electric cars in Saudi Arabia can help to save funds on environmental protection and health care.
Regarding railway transportation, Saudi Arabia plans to invest in rail network to transfer both passengers and freight around the country (Oxford Business Group, 2017). The development of such type of transport will relieve congestion on local roads and have less harmful impact on the surrounding area. The head of the department of environmental sciences and meteorology at KAU, Ahmad Al-Ansari, says that new rail projects will reduce energy consumption. According to the report published in Oxford Business Group, the country also aims to build a high-speed rail to connect Makkah, Jeddah, and Medina. In addition, it plans on constructing metro in such cities as Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Makkah, and Medina (Oxford Business Group, 2017).
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In conclusion, reducing air pollution in Saudi Arabia is a challenging task. To tackle this problem without jeopardizing economic growth, it is important to rationalize and control the usage of energy resources. Promoting alternative sources of transportation, such as electric cars and railways, would positively influence the condition of the environment in the Kingdom. Also, it would be beneficial to increase the green area and decrease the dependency of economic growth on oil. Obviously, the future of the environment and the quality of life is in people’s hands, and the task is to apply all possible means to reduce harmful CO2 emissions as soon as possible.