Air Pollution in the United Arab Emirates


Air pollution refers to the introduction of the solid and air particles into the atmosphere. Air pollution in the UAE is more pronounced in such large cities as Abu Dhabi and Dubai due to the enhanced anthropogenic activities that lead to the production of the harmful substances in the atmosphere. The sources of air pollution in UAE have been grouped into four major classes. On the one hand, mobile sources are the principal causes of pollution in the UAE. Under the category, buses, cars, airplanes, trains, and tracks contribute to vast amounts of air pollution in the country due to the enormous volume of pollutants released as a result of the combustion of fossil fuels. On the other hand, stationary sources of pollution such as industries contribute to a significant portion of the total pollution. Other sources of pollution include natural and area ones.

The primary pollutants in the UAE’s atmosphere include sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxides, organic compounds, soil particulates, ammonia, chlorofluorocarbons, and toxic metals such as lead and mercury. The industrial processes are the primary sources of sulfur and carbon oxides. The oxidation of the sulfur and nitrate and their subsequent combination with atmospheric water molecules leads to acid rain, which has adverse impacts on the environment and people. The United Arab Emirates’ government has adopted measures to curb air pollution. As such, industrial plants are required by law to comply with regulations aimed at lowering the carbon imprint, which has adversely affected the global climate. This paper will adopt literature review methodology research to study the patterns, causes, and the implications of the air pollution in the United Arab Emirates.

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Significance of Air Pollution

Effects of Air Pollution on the Environment

Toxic pollutants such as nitrates, sulfates, lead, and mercury have the adverse effect on the environment, especially on the vegetation. The contaminants are accumulated in the food webs and food chains, harming both the plant and animal species. The chemical compounds interact with the atmospheric water, thus creating acidic compounds which kill trees, grasses, and other vegetation coverings. Besides, acid rain destroys the plants’ leaves, which limits the extent of photosynthesis. The primary producers of oxygen, the plants, depend on their leaves to capture the sunlight energy and carry out the photosynthesis. It is evident that all other principal consumers rely on plants for subsequent feeding. In addition, the acidic compounds find their way into the rivers and streams thereby acidifying the streams. Consequently, the acidic compounds lead to the growth of algae in the large water bodies and rivers, thus adversely affecting the survival of other organisms. Moreover, such compounds change the acid-base balance of soil leading to chemical alteration, thus limiting the growth of specific plants and vegetation. Furthermore, air pollutants, when combined with atmospheric waters, lead to the acid rain, which corrodes iron sheets and buildings. The corrosion necessitates additional costs for repair and maintenance of the structures, which may not be readily sufficient. Failure to repair or repaint the structures lead to the reduction of their quality. Carbon dioxide, methane, and other CFC gasses lead to climate change. The gasses form a blanket, thereby limiting the escape of the terrestrial radiation into space. Consequently, the temperatures of the earth surface increases dramatically, and this causes climate change.

High temperatures increase the rate of evaporation in some regions on the globe and lead to the death of crops and animals. However, other areas may receive greater than normal rainfall, leading to flooding, destruction of property, and growth of new species of plants. Furthermore, the gasses destroy the ozone layer responsible for protecting the humans from the dangerous UV light, thereby increasing the risk of cataracts and skin cancer. Finally, the mixture of the greenhouse gasses from consuming the fossil fuels and particulates in the atmosphere cause smog, which results in reduced visibility. Visibility is an essential feature for the air transport. Reduced visibility may limit the extent to which pilots can see, which might result in air accidents.

Effect of Air Pollution on Humans

Particulate matter has adverse impacts on the human health. The time of exposure determines the implication of the particles for human health. The chemical composition of the particulates affects the nature of the health problem. Consequently, the exposure to air pollutants may have short- and long-term effects on the human health. Air pollution can lead to irritation of the nose, eyes, and throat. Besides, the particulates may result in upper respiratory tract diseases such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Other health problems include allergic reactions, nausea, and headaches. Moreover, short-term exposure to the air pollutants can aggravate the existing medical conditions such as asthma and emphysema. On the contrary, the pollutants can lead to the long-term health effects when an individual is exposed to the air particulates for a long time. For example, the particles in the atmosphere can lead to chronic respiratory conditions such as lung cancer or heart diseases. To the extreme, the environmental issue can lead to the damage of such organs as brain, kidneys, and liver. The particulate matter in the atmosphere may aggravate existing conditions,leading to early deaths among the seniors in particular.

From the above discussion, understanding air pollution in the United Arab Emirates is critical in several ways. First, comprehension of the problem of air pollution is significant in identifying the best practices to reduce the emission of the particulates into the atmosphere. Consequently, the preventive methods would reduce the amount of acidic compounds in the soil, earth cover, and water bodies, thereby conserving the precious plants and animals. Besides, the practices would limit the depletion rate of the ozone, thus reducing the impact of UV radiation on the human skin. Second, understanding the problem of air pollution is significant in identifying possible solutions for dealing with the rapidly changing climate. Hence, the practices would be critical in reducing the emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thereby dealing with the effects of climate change. Third, human health is paramount. Therefore, understanding the problem of air pollution can help reduce the impacts on human health. Many governments are diverting money meant for other projects to meet the growing costs of health care. Lastly, understanding the problem of air pollution is significant to the government for considering the development of alternative sources of energy in order to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses. The adoption of the clean power sources such as solar, water, tidal, wind and geothermal energies can play a crucial role in conserving the atmosphere, human health, vegetation, and climate.

Literature Review

Several resources have looked into the issue of air pollution in the United Arab Emirates. Cohen, Sexton, and Yeatts identified that mobile sources of pollution consisting of the motor vehicles and airplanes are the primary causes of air pollution in the UAE. Most of the vehicles utilize fossil fuels such as gas, which leads to the emission of carbon dioxide upon combustion inside the engines. In some cases, incomplete combustion of the gas leads to the emission of carbon monoxide, which is fatal to human health. In addition, trains contribute a significant amount of pollutants into the skies above UAE. Nevertheless, Farahat  identified that air pollution is likely to contribute to adverse health impacts when the particulate pollutants deposit in respiratory system. The combination of the particles with body fluids creates acidic solutions likely to cause burning sensation. In addition, large quantities of pollutants deprive human beings of the fresh air, thereby aggravating the existing conditions such as asthma among older adults.

Seinfeld and Pandis reported that air pollution has significant effect on the global climate. The greenhouse gasses contribute to the increase in temperature levels due to the formation of a gaseous blanket within the atmosphere, limiting the terrestrial radiation from escaping to space with the immediate impacts of lowering the atmospheric temperatures. Thus the sheet hinders the radiation from escaping translating to high atmospheric temperatures. Due to the fact that air pollution is taking place on a global scale, the combined effects lead to drying of crops, deaths of animals, high rainfall, and, in most cases, rough weather and climate changes. Consequently, Seinfeld and Pandis, attributed the melting of glaciers, frequent floods in the coastal cities of UAE, increase in the sea level, frequent sandstorms, drought, and higher than normal rainfall in some parts of the countryUAE because of the carbon emissions.

Farahat indicates that natural phenomena have contributed to the increase of dust particles in the atmosphere. High winds and sandstorms carry large quantities of fine dust particles, grain pollen, and mold spores into the air, causing respiratory health problems among human beings. On the contrary, Pandey, Mohan, and Dhar  argue that although hailstorms have been found to destroy plant leaves extensively, thus leading to retarded growth or the ultimate death of plants and some animals. Hailstorms are formed due to the condensation of waters molecules on the atmospheric particles such as dust particulates. In addition, Cohen, Sexton, and Yeatts  carried out the research concluding that oil refineries contribute to extensive air pollution in Abu Dhabi. Consequently, the areas where the factories are located tend to have reduced visibility owing to smoke plumes emanating from the oil refineries.

The UAE is a major producer of oil with Abu Dhabi area containing most of the country’s oil reserves. Besides, manufacturing and power plants in the emirate contribute to significant amount of air pollutants. Finally, Babahar, Maraqa, and Abu-Eishah indicated that air pollutants have the capacity of depleting the ozone layer that protects the human beings from the danger of ultraviolet radiation. In most cases, the radiation alters the way the cells typically behave, leading to the growth of cancerous cells. The authors identified a direct link between cases of skin cancer and the amount of air pollutants. They concluded that heavily polluted areas reported high numbers of the patients with skin cancer.


Through the National Strategy and Action Plan for Environmental Health, the UAE national government has devised numerous management tools to curb the rising air pollution in all the emirates. Under the plan, the national government has banned smoking of all tobacco products in public buildings and places in order to reduce both indoor and outdoor air pollution. In addition, the government has outlined a national plan that proposes matter pollution not to exceed the standards outlined by the government strategy by 2030. Furthermore, the federal government has initiated strategies aimed at curbing the emissions of greenhouse gasses in major cities around the country. For example, the government has launched plans to reduce carbon imprint in Abu Dhabi through operational solar projects. These projects are designed to reduce over 175,000 tons of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere every year.

The oil refineries in the emirate are the primary sources of air pollution. In addition, the establishment of four nuclear plants will aim at cutting the carbon levels by 2020. The inventions come after the realization that the transport and energy sectors contribute to over 80 per cent of all greenhouse gasses emitted into the atmosphere. However, the government is considering the use of low-sulfur and compressed natural gas and alternative energy sources to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions. The invention of electric trains is likely to reduce greenhouse gasses emissions in case all the trains will be purely electric. The UAE’s ministry of environment has embarked on the tightening measures aimed at curbing carbon production. The department is restricting the amount of gasses from the car, heavy machinery, and power plants exhaust across all emirates. The department is considering stricter laws to protect the health of the citizens through legislations aimed at improving air quality in all municipalities, cities, and the emirates through simplifying the complex air quality index to the version that all citizens will understand without much hustle.


Air condition in UAE is deteriorating. According to the World Bank, the country has overtaken other countries known for excessive pollution. For instance, the state is ahead of such countries as India and China. In addition, air pollution in the country has shown an increasing trend over the last two decades, owing to increased number of vehicles and the development of modern cities. Furthermore, the oil production has enhanced over the previous years due to the global energy demand that calls for the use of fossil fuels. However, the general trend is likely to dive due to the sustained campaign on the need to control carbon emission and to adopt alternative sources of energy in order to reduce the impact of air pollution. The National Strategy and Action Plan for Environmental Health has strengths on one hand and weaknesses on the other hand. For example, the ban against the use of tobacco-related products in public places is likely to reduce the impact of pollution on the human health.

In addition, the plan’s mission to largely reduce the particulate matter amount by 2030 is in an effective measure since all air pollution-related health problems emanate from the deposition of the particulate matter in the respiratory system. On the contrary, the plan has the main weakness of not addressing the cause of air pollution in terms of indoor pollution and smoking that account to some extent for the air pollution rates in UAE. The management tool of controlling air pollution in main cities through operational solar projects is likely to reduce carbon emission to the atmosphere. However, the projects have their weakness due to the fact that solar energy is limited in time; thus, adequate energy may not be produced to sustain economy energy use. On the contrary, the use of low-sulfur diesel and compressed natural gas as sources of energy does not address the issue of air pollution. These pollution sources also emit the greenhouse gasses, which add to the problem of air pollution. However, the use of energy sources is likely to reduce the amount of pollutants as the national government seeks to identify concrete measures to address the problem.

Results and Conclusion

Motor vehicles are the primary sources of air pollution in most cities of the UAE. The overwhelmed roads and the expanding airports are contributing to the increase in air pollution across all communities. The growth of tourism has not made it better. On this note, Dubai, especially due to enhanced tourism, has provided the highest amount of air pollutants compared to other emirates that constitute UAE. Also, in line with Lave and Seskin’s  observations, stationary sources of air pollution come in the second position.

The primary stationary sources of air pollution are oil refineries, industrial facilities, power plants, and factories. To this end, Abu Dhabi contributes mostly due to its high number of stationary sources of air pollution. The capital holds over 95% of the country’s oil resources. It is evident that most of the oil refineries are located in the emirate. Furthermore, the emirate has the largest number of factories in the UAE, thereby causing a significant amount of air pollution. The main industrial plants in the emirate include manufacturing, oil refineries, motor vehicles, and metal industries. Conversely, area sources of the air pollution contribute to a significant amount of pollutants in the atmosphere. The area sources include cities in the UAE that act as sources of air pollution. On this note, Dubai contributes to the greater amount of air pollutants due to the number of households in the area. The city of Sharjah is closely following Dubai. Both cities provide over 90% of air pollutants under the area sources category.

In line with Gibson et al. observations, natural sources of air pollution cause fewer amount of air pollutants in the UAE. World Bank’s  records state that the country is the mostly polluted one in the world. The 2015 report published in the Green Data Book claims that the UAE recorded new figures overtaking other countries such as India and China. The book outlined that UAE’s air contains 80 micrograms of pollutants in every cubic meter. The report cites irresponsible industrial practices as the leading cause of pollution in the country. The recent increase in the respiratory diseases in UAE is due to the rise of air pollution in the major cities of UAE. The findings tally with Szyszkowicz and Rowe’s observations that a 25 percent increase in respiratory diseases is the result of air pollution caused by sandstorms and changing weather. The winds are useful in adding particulate matter to the atmosphere. Although sandstorms are the key agents of transporting pollutants to the atmosphere, human activities in Abu Dhabi contributes to 30-40 percent of all particulate matter in the air.

In conclusion, air pollution is an environmental problem that is likely to lead to adverse effects on the health and global climate. From the discussion, the primary sources of air pollution are mobile and stationary ones, the latter in the form of oil refineries and power plants. Besides, air pollution, depending on the period of pollutant exposure, contributes to such health problems as asthma and bronchitis. The problem of air pollution is deteriorating in the UAE in case the statistics by the World Bank is real. The country has overtaken other leading global polluted countries such as China and India to assume the first position. Therefore, there is a need for expedited action to deal with the effects of air pollution.


The best way to address air pollution is to identify the causes and then to apply necessary measures in order to ensure that contamination does not take the first place. Therefore, it would be recommendable for the UAE to adopt clean sources of energy such as wind, water, geothermal, tidal, and nuclear one as the alternate energy for transport and industrial purposes. The renewable sources provide clean power that produces little amount of greenhouse gasses. Besides, it would be necessary for the country to plant more trees so they can act as windbreakers and reduce amounts of particulate matter, which is the leading cause of health problems among the population.