KRG not doing enough to crack down on vehicles emitting black smoke

31-03-2024 05:29
A car is belching out heavy smoke on the main road of Sulaimaniya- Chamchamal, 8 March 2024. Photo; Peregraf


It is common to see cars and trucks belching toxic, black smoke from their tailpipes on roads in the Kurdistan Region. Despite government threats of fines and other measures, this public health danger is allowed to continue.

The smoke is caused by faulty engines or by poor-quality gasoline sold at some stations. The smoke, which is most often a result of a high fuel-to-air ratio in the combustion chamber that does not allow the gasoline or diesel to fully burn, comes on top of the everyday emissions from vehicles that contribute to pollution.

"It is very difficult to eradicate car smoke… It cannot be solved by instructions and decisions," said Fazel Haji, a traffic expert who served as Erbil's traffic spokesperson for years. At the moment, the government can impose a 40,000 Iraqi dinar fine ($26.67 at market rates) on vehicle owners or confiscate the vehicle if the owners refuse to get it fixed.

Ultimately, addressing vehicle emission problems requires grander solutions, Haji argues.

"[Emissions] can be reduced by installing a new transportation system, such as public transport," he told Peregraf. "Not only the black smoke, but all the toxic gases emitted by cars, are dangerous to human life."

According to environmental organizations, the large number of vehicles, smoke, and the emission of toxic gases are major contributors to environmental pollution in the Kurdistan Region and add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as a part of climate change. They also affect the water and soil.

"There are many gases emitted from cars, all of which are toxic and have a big impact on human health. They cause [at least] three types of skin cancer and brain and lung cancer," environmental expert Dr. Mohammed Tahir Brifkani told Peregraf.

In November 2023, Erbil Traffic Directorate gave drivers with cars that emit dark smoke ten days to get their vehicles repaired or face confiscation. The traffic directorate in Sulaimaniyah issued a similar warning the previous year. Yet these cars and trucks are still on the street.

"Any vehicle that smokes is visible. It cannot be hidden. Mobile units will deal with the driver according to the laws and guidelines," Duhok Traffic Directorate Spokesperson Azad Taha told Peregraf.

Taha said that the directorate does not have data on how many vehicles have black smoke problems, but praised the city’s air quality.

He also claimed that the problem was being addressed and noted that the number of fines for black smoke was on the decline.

"The basic solution is to continuously monitor poor-quality vehicles and warn drivers that old models should be destroyed and replaced with new vehicles," Taha said.

When drivers in the Kurdistan Region renew the annual license for their vehicles, they must pay a small fee that is supposed to go to road maintenance and enforcement of environmental regulations. The fee runs from 70,000 Iraqi dinars ($46.67) for trucks, 30,000 Iraqi dinars ($20) for rental vehicles, and 20,000 Iraqi dinars ($13.33) for private cars.

However, this money is often redirected for other purposes.

Dilshad Abdulrahman, director of the environment office in Duhok, told Peregraf that black smoke problems concern them.

"But we cannot put police on the streets and punish any vehicle that smokes. It is more about guidance and information about environmental issues for the relevant parties and improving the culture of environmental protection among the people," Abdulrahman said.

Most countries are now developing alternative energy and transport approaches — including using electric vehicles instead of ones that use gasoline and diesel — to protect the environment and combat climate change.

The UN has repeatedly warned that Iraq is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Any vehicle bearing the number plate issued in the Kurdistan Region must undergo an annual inspection.

"The requirement to renew the vehicle safety inspection should be more environmentally friendly so that drivers are required to fix their vehicles if they have problems or smoke a lot," Abdulrahman suggested.

Haji said that officials will force the owner of any vehicle that smokes to immediately fix it and will fine them.