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Qatar's air quality improves with social distancing finds QEERI

Apr 26, 2020

Qatar has witnessed a substantial improvement in air quality over the past few weeks, say scientists at the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI), part of Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU). According to the team at QEERI’s Environment & Sustainability Center (ESC), this change is, in large part, a result of social distancing policies the State of Qatar has put in place to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
 

QEERI operates a network of five air quality monitoring stations strategically located across greater Doha, where approximately 95% of the country’s population lives. The purpose of the stations is to assess air quality in these areas, understand its impact on the health and productivity of the population, and quantify any improvements related to pollution reduction measures. The stations, coupled with an air quality forecasting platform developed by the ESC, uniquely position QEERI to provide maximum impact in the national fight against air pollution.
 

Mohammed Ayoub, Senior Research Director at QEERI’s ESC, said: “We have observed a 30% decrease in PM2.5 concentrations across greater Doha, which can be directly attributed to social distancing policies. Similarly, we’ve observed decreases of 9% and 18% respectively in ozone and nitrogen dioxide concentrations. This is very significant as PM2.5 and ozone are known to be the air pollutants with the greatest negative impacts on human health and some of the most challenging to manage.”
 

Stronger decreases were seen in the Chinese province of Wuhan when total lockdowns were implemented to contain the spread of the Coronavirus. Dr. Christos Fountoukis, Senior Scientist at QEERI’s ESC explained: “It is remarkable to see the comparison in air quality levels in Wuhan between 1-20 January (the period before the lockdown) and the 10-25 February period, which clearly shows the impact of the lockdown on the city's air pollution as well as the surrounding areas.”
 

A recent study by Harvard University found a 15% increase in the likelihood of death from Coronavirus infection for people who live in polluted counties in the United States. Dr. Azhar Siddique, Scientist at QEERI’s ESC further clarified: “Long-term exposure to poor air quality may make the population more vulnerable to respiratory illnesses including COVID-19 and can aggravate other respiratory conditions such as asthma.” Improving air quality during the pandemic alone will not eliminate this risk. The only way to achieve that is to reduce the population’s long term exposure by reducing air pollutant concentrations in the long-term.
 

Mohammed Ayoub said, “QEERI has been working with national authorities to study the effectiveness of social distancing policies through the monitoring of air pollutants associated with traffic, construction, industry, shipping, aviation and the like. This has given us tremendous insights into the contribution of local emissions to our overall pollution profile and has provided a real-life experiment of sorts on strategies to further reduce air pollution in the future.”
 

Dr. Marc Vermeersch, Executive Director at QEERI, added: “Over the past few weeks, the scientists, researchers, and engineers at QEERI have realigned our research focus to ensure that we can support Qatar in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. QEERI’s ESC works closely with key national stakeholders including the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Municipality and Environment on various topics related to air quality, climate change, and environmental sustainability.”
 

QEERI’s other research centers are also committed to helping Qatar tackle the challenges related to COVID-19, in the areas of energy, water, and environment.