AAs a child, I used to check the time by looking out the window of my fifth-floor apartment. We lived in a congested neighborhood in Cairo, and some days were what I called “orange weather,” when sandstorms clouded the streets below.
In those days, he knew there was no way he could go to school. I had asthma and needed to avoid attacks that could leave me out of breath and in desperate need of an inhaler. I always wondered: was I the only one missing school that day to protect my lungs?
It was only when I moved to dubai a decade later that I began to understand how a changing climate could affect my life.
I woke up to another sandstorm recently. This time from my ninth floor flat on the west side from Dubai The blur of mist outside my window was familiar, but this time I didn’t hesitate to walk out my front door to meet my friend.
Asthma is quite common in Egypt, affecting approximately 8% of children and 6% of adults, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Health. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), rates range from 2.8% and 8%.
The Middle East has always been affected by dust and sand storms and is considered one of the dustiest regions in the world. The frequency of these storms is said to be increasing, causing financial losses of $13 billion annually, according to the World Bank.
Polluted air and dust storms can have serious public health impacts and cause respiratory diseases. in addition to environmental damage. But, if the entire region is a victim of these storms, is it more bearable in some cities than in others?
I have moved back and forth between these two cities, and they are different in many ways. Greater Cairo is home to more than 25 million people, making it the most populous city in the Middle East. The country has been suffering from air pollution for decades, exacerbated by transport exhaust and industrial waste. Every year, two million people seek medical treatment for respiratory health problems, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Health.
Just a three-hour flight away is Dubai, with a capacity for 3.5 million people. Being one of the fastest growing economies has given the UAE government more opportunities to invest in building cleaner infrastructure. However, the air is still polluted as the PM2.5 concentration in Dubai is 116 times higher than the air quality value recommended by the WHO.
The difference is in the resources. Cairo wants to fix it. Egypt is hosting Cop27, the UN climate conference, and is making efforts to reduce the frequency of dust storms. But social networks in the country have reported a series of trees being felled in the eastern suburbs of Cairo, something that the former environment minister has confirmed and said that it was vital to prevent “problems” with underground cables and pipes.
Dust storms sometimes seem out of control when they hit the Middle East region, where many parts are desert. In the United Arab Emirates, the authorities generally advise against driving during sand storms. But how will people get around, given that the prediction is for more and more of these storms, with hotter summers by 2050, according to a 2017 report from Emirates Wildlife Society? This is expected to affect outdoor workers and increase health risks.
In Cairo, the authorities also issue alerts to people with respiratory diseases, the elderly and children during dust storms to avoid leaving their homes.
Both countries are bound to face this unavoidable condition from time to time, but it is difficult to compare the infrastructure available to a developing nation with the resources offered to an oil-rich Gulf state.
Cairo is charming, but hectic. The buildings hug each other tightly, almost to the point of suffocation. Walking its streets is one of my favorite activities. I’d rather spend my time traveling outdoors than in a stuffy vehicle. Strolling among the nocturnal charms of the city is best accompanied by a soundtrack that goes from Umm Kulthum to electro shaabi. But, as much as I love it, the air is far from fresh.
Dubai does not have the same rich and ramshackle street life. The air is more humid and the sidewalks are not always designed for a casual walk. My commute to work consists of walking from my building to a car, then to another air-conditioned tower in a city that is perfectly equipped to deal with sandstorms. All buildings, towers, arenas, shopping malls, and offices are air-conditioned. When we socialize at night, we gather indoors in indoor entertainment venues or in cold malls. In the United Arab Emirates, I have never seen life stop when a storm hits like it does in Cairo. Office work continues. It’s business as usual.
Both countries are working to improve air quality. The United Arab Emirates, which is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the risks of climate breakdown, is working with the World Health Organization global advisory group on air pollution and health to find solutions.
And in May, Egypt thrown out a strategy 2050 to address the climate crisis by reducing emissions, improving infrastructure to finance climate projects, and preparing for adaptability to global warming. The country has also Announced plans to plant 100 m of trees in more than 9,000 locations in August to double green space and reduce greenhouse gases.
The threat of climate collapse is facing all countries. And yet Cairo and Dubai experience it very differently. It is surprising how the economic capacity of countries, even if they are in the same region, can affect efforts to prepare for a warmer climate. It turns out that a sandstorm is not the same wherever it occurs. The governments of the world are making promises, but is it the actions that made a sandstorm in one city more bearable than another? And although the size of the necessary action may differ, comparing a city of 25 million inhabitants with another of 3.5 million, I still ask: what is the main factor, the economic capacity or the adaptation of the country to its climate?