Kabul, Jan 7 (IANS) Residents of the Afghan capital now have another cause for concern that has surpassed the war – the city’s deteriorating air pollution that has reached “hazardous” levels in recent weeks.
The situation poses a threat to the health of hundreds of thousands of people – particularly sensitive groups such as children and the elderly, many of whom have ended up in hospital, Efe news reported.
“She started to complain of chest pain and sore throat with severe fever and headache and consecutive coughing after she went out of the room to play in the yard for a couple of hours. (The) weather was polluted with smog,” 28-year-old Maryam told EFE of her seven-year-old daughter, Lida Jan.
The girl was taken for treatment at Rahman-Mina Hospital in east Kabul on Wednesday.
“I am worried. Last year, respiratory problems badly threatened her life. I hope this year she recovers soon,” Maryam said with tears in her eyes.
Lida is one of more than 130 patients who have been visiting the hospital on a daily basis for respiratory diseases such as bronchitis, pneumonia and flu – mainly brought on by the deteriorating air quality.
“The number of patients with air pollution-related respiratory diseases is significantly on the rise, particularly children, as quality of air has been worsening in recent weeks,” Husnain Shah, a doctor at the hospital told EFE.
Shah said the number of patients showing up each day was up 30 percent compared to the same period last year, which the doctor attributed mostly to the air pollution.
Around 9,000 patients with pollution-related respiratory diseases visited 17 hospitals in Kabul in the last week of 2019, marking a 20 per cent increase on the same period of last year, the Afghan Ministry of Public Health told EFE.
There are no official figures on the number of pollution-related deaths, but at least 17 of the 9,000 patients seen at the end of 2019 died, among them 10 children and four elderly people who had asthma and a history of heart disease.
“The level of air pollution in the city (in recent weeks) reached hazardous levels, which is strongly unhealthy for the citizens,” Dr Nizamuddin Jalil, a spokesman for the Health Ministry, told EFE.
Children and elderly people with asthma, a history of heart problems and weak immune systems are the main victims of air pollution.
Strokes, serious heart problems and cancer could be the longterm effects.
“We strongly advise all citizens to remain indoors and wear masks if going outdoors for urgent needs, particularly in peak hours of pollution”, Jalil said.
During peak hours, pollution levels sometimes exceed 300 AQI, which is “hazardous” to the general public, who are at risk of adverse health effects.
Such high levels in recent weeks places Kabul among the most polluted capitals in the world.
A mixed thick layer of smog and smoke looms over the city, particularly during late afternoon hours and in the evening.
Authorities say the use of coal, plastics, old car tires and other low-quality materials used by citizens to keep their homes warm is the main cause of Kabul’s air pollution problem, amid high gas prices and lack of electricity in the city of 6 million people.
Dusty roads, the illegal expansion of the city, lack of greenery and heavy traffic are other factors contributing to the air pollution, Laila Samani, a spokeswoman for Afghanistan’s Environment Protection Agency (NEPA) told EFE.
The spike in air pollution has forced the authorities to launch a campaign to prevent the situation from getting worse.
Public awareness programs, debates, preventive measures including banning the burning of low quality materials by businesses are the immediate steps taken by the authorities to beat the pollution, Samani said.
In the past week, NEPA and other government bodies have shut scores of business, industrial companies, high-rise buildings, wedding halls and public baths, whose owners were using low-quality materials in their heating systems.
Authorities have urged citizens and businesses to install smoke filters, use gas, repair old vehicles and stop burning plastic to help reduce the pollution.
“We are taking all these immediate steps in a hope to reduce air pollution,” Samani said.
Citizens and social groups also taking part in the awareness campaigns and distributing masks.