A BBC News Arabic investigation has revealed toxic air pollution from some of the world’s biggest oil companies, including BP, Shell and ADNOC, is spreading hundreds of kilometres from their oil fields, putting the health of millions of people at risk across the Gulf, Iran and Iraq.

When we think of city pollution, is it not Beijing and Delhi that come to mind? In the latter, air pollution has reached a level as harmful as smoking a 20-pack of cigarettes a day. But a remarkable investigation by the BBC shown in 30-minute documentary Breathless, as part of their Eye Investigations series, has delved into the major oil pollution in the Gulf which has been damaging the health of entire populations.

During oil production, excess gas is produced. The sensible next step would be to use this to power people’s homes. Across the Gulf however, multinationals, such as Shell, BP and PetroChina, unnecessarily decide to burn it using a method known as flaring. In the process, they are causing totally avoidable, man-made, life-threatening pollution. 

Flares not only impact air quality in the local area but affect areas up to 200km away. The particles it releases are so tiny they can enter the bloodstream easily via the respiratory system and poison the body.

In Breathless we see Shia Muslims on a walking pilgrimage in Basra facing serious respiratory issues as a wider health crisis grips southern Iraq. A medical expert predicts that in just five years all the inhabitants Basra will face respiratory problems. Meanwhile, just over the border in Kuwait, a father who’s entire family suffer from asthma says that ‘using inhalers has become like drinking water.’

Related posts

The recent COP 28 gathering was awash in scandal after the revelation of host UAE’s plans to use the conference to make oil deals. Between the imprisonment of his own daughter by billionaire despot Sheik Mohammed (ruler of Dubai and Vice President of the UAE), the rampant domestic abuse he inflicted upon his wife Princess Raya, and the horrific treatment of the migrant workers who built their cities, it’s safe to say the UAE does not have the best of reputations. 

Just 60 years ago, Dubai was nothing more than a tiny fishing village in the midst of a vast desert. Kids who now jet across the globe clad in Gucci and Supreme tell proud tales of down-and-out grandparents who fished for their food and had little access to healthcare. But something changed. Oil was discovered, a radical discovery, rapidly building the nation into a global centre of wealth and extravagance. Should the UAE really have been chairing COP at such a crucial moment in the battle for our planet?

What we see on screen is heartbreakingly frightening: a child unable to stay in school longer without being hospitalised for pollution-caused asthma; citizens forced into speaking anonymously under the fear of being persecuted by their governments for telling their stories and their truths; the corporations causing all this refusing to comment, barely acknowledging there exists a problem. 

The whole situation has the eerie undertone of some kind of apocalypse movie – only it’s real and it’s now. In its bid for economic ultra-growth, the Gulf states – founded upon oil & gas money – are ruining the lives of their own citizens. Short BBC documentary Breathless is strikingly informative and tells it all with focused honesty.