Image Credit: Yasmena Al Mulla

Kuwait: As the world witnesses air quality improving and sea creatures reemerging, it begins to seem like there is a positive impact of Covid-19 on the environment. Although, the rise of single use plastic and an increase in littering have illustrated the negative impact that the pandemic has had on the world, including Kuwait.

Back in April, the US embassy in Kuwait reported an all time low Particulate Matter (PM) rating, meaning that the air quality in Kuwait went from ‘hazardous’ to ‘moderate’.

“The change in air quality is the main positive outcome of the pandemic since cars were parked in garages for months and economic activity was stopped,” Samia Al Duaij, Senior Environmental Specialist at the World Bank, told Gulf News.

Al Duaij also pointed out that there has been a reappearance of wildlife in Kuwait especially in the desert. Yet, ocean wildlife did not see as much as a positive affect.

“Every year in April there is an outbreak of fish kill in Kuwait. This is because when temperatures go up the hot water and pollution create a red tide that depletes oxygen in the water, which leads to many fish dying,” explained Al Duaij, “although the outbreak still happened the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that the fish kill is part of a pollution problem, signaling a change in governmental attitude towards the environment.”

Image Credit: Yasmena Al Mulla

Rise in littering

As gyms, recreational facilities and dine-in restaurants remain closed, the number of beach goers has gone up in recent weeks. With more people utilizing beachfronts, the amount of garbage left behind has drastically increased.

“The pandemic effected the environment positively during full lockdown as air quality was enhanced, pollution levels dropped and marine life flourished. Littering, however, soon caught up after the full lockdown and reached unforeseen levels across the country,” Save q8c, a Kuwaiti non profit initiative, told Gulf News.

The rise of littering has prompted Save q8c to establish an awareness campaign aimed at protecting the beaches and sea in Kuwait. The initiative designed posters and signs to be distributed across beaches as they believe, “no entity can fully monitor the country’s vast beaches and sea, so we as citizens have to act upon our responsibilities and take full care of all public areas as if it was part of our own home,” explained Save q8c.

“While there are strict rules against littering in Kuwait, there are a couple of challenges in implementing the law,” said Al Duaij.

One of the challenges is that governmental entities do not have the needed manpower to ensure that people are not littering. Jurisdiction is another challenge. The beachfront is under the responsibility of the municipality, while the sea (up to 12 nautical miles) is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Transportation.

“The jurisdiction issue creates a conflict for both entities since it is unclear whose responsibility it is to enforce the law since the beachfront and the sea are territorially connected,” explained Al Duaij.

Single use plastic

Wearing a mask and gloves in public has become compulsory in most places in Kuwait, therefore increasing the utilization of single use plastic.

“Single use plastic is an issue regardless of littering. For those that do not discard their waste probably it ends up in the ecosystem affecting the wildlife. On the other hand, throwing waste in the trash ends up in the landfills which are unsanitary open dump sites,” said Al Duaij.

According to a study published by the University of Warwick, latex gloves are biodegradable as they are made from rubber but nitrile and vinyl gloves are not.

“For all we know masks or other objects can transport the virus, especially to cleaning workers that pick up the trash, since we don’t know how long it lives on various services,” explained Al Duaij.

Social behavior

As the government is trying to limit indoor gatherings, outdoor public spaces like parks and pedestrian zones are important now more than ever.

Yarmouk, a residential area in Kuwait, is categorized as a ‘healthy city’ by the World Health Organization (WHO) as it meets the criteria in terms of number of green spaces and environmentally friendly community spaces.

“After the lockdown many other areas are following in the footsteps of Yarmouk, after seeing the correlation between healthy cities and the well being of residents,” said Al Duaij.

“Treat all public spaces like your own and be fully aware that everything we do to hurt the environment will come back to haunt us in one way or another,” said Save q8c.