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Kicking clean air into touch

Mohammed Ayoub, senior research director at the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI) at Qatar Foundation writes for Air Quality News about how learnings from the 2022 FIFA World Cup could benefit more than just football and Qatar.

As preparations continue for the World Cup, you can see many of the changes happening around Doha. New stadiums are being completed and opened.

Qatar’s metro system is back, carrying passengers with increased health security measures.

Air quality has been improving year-on-year since 2018, and a tremendous amount of work is ongoing to further improve and manage air quality throughout the tournament.

As one of Qatar’s biggest air quality projects to date, this work will not only make the World Cup a better experience for fans, players, volunteers and organizers but will also leave a legacy of homegrown research, technology development, and informed decision making, to help manage the Qatari airshed for generations to come.

Those crucial learnings will also be made available to FIFA for the 2026 World Cup in North America, as well as to interested air quality professionals around the world.

Like Beijing and London, which previously hosted major global sporting events, Doha has its challenges when it comes to air quality and thermal comfort – though some are unique to a desert environment.

Active Shamal winds (Arabic for ‘north’) kick up dust storms that can sweep through the entire Arabian Peninsula.

Urban emissions coupled with a strong sea breeze can contribute to ozone and fine particulate matter (PM) event days. Climate change is increasing dust storm intensity and altering rainfall patterns in the region, requiring the likes of flood management in the desert emirate.

Starting in 2016, the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI) deployed a network of five air quality monitoring stations strategically located around greater Doha, to measure concentrations of pollutants of common concern.

We’ve developed a robust photochemical modeling platform for diagnostic and prognostic assessment of regional air quality. We are working on air quality sensor applications to increase the spatial density of measurement points to serve either as inputs for our models, or as validation tools for model output.

Collectively, these efforts will provide more representative and actionable air quality data.

To bring this all together, we’ve conceived a Six-Point Air Quality (Six-PAQ) management framework for the development, assessment and evaluation of intervention strategies to better manage and improve air quality.

Six-PAQ will identify the most impactful and feasible intervention strategies for priority adoption and will put greater resources in the hands of decision makers.

It also provides a new approach to urban air quality management in the region that includes greater public involvement. Dissemination of higher accuracy air quality forecasts will allow families and individuals to make better-informed decisions about their individual exposure.

Schools can utilize this information to make decisions on outdoor activities based on near real-time conditions. Six-PAQ will also serve as a mechanism to communicate public calls for action in the event of a forecasted pollution event.

These could include shelter-in-place recommendations related to an upcoming dust-storm, for example.

In 2022, we hope to have in place an Environmental Operations Command Centre for the World Cup.

Climatological, near real-time and forecast data on weather and air quality will be made available to tournament organizers and national decision-makers, allowing for timely, informed and proactive decisions.

Of particular interest is understanding the effects of our local air quality and thermal comfort on the experience of our guests from around the world.

We know the eyes of the world will be on us in Qatar, and we’re aware people want assurance that we can deliver on air quality, which is why we intend to be transparent and share our lessons with future planners.

As parents, we are keenly aware that the stakes are a lot higher than the success of one football tournament.

At a recent public event, I was asked by an asthmatic 10-year-old if the air in Doha was safe for him to breathe. I have an asthmatic child, and I too am concerned about the air she breathes.

It is how we respond to questions and concerns like this and what actions they precipitate on our end, that define
who we are as a country. Air quality management is an investment in everyone’s health, wellbeing and productivity

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