Prioritizing Environmental Health Risks in the UAE

Published in: Risk Analysis, v. 30, no. 12, Dec. 2010, p. 1842-1856

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2009

by Henry H. Willis, Jacqueline MacDonald Gibson, Regina A. Shih, Sandy A. Geschwind, Sarah Olmstead, Jianhui Hu, Aimee E. Curtright, Gary Cecchine, Melinda Moore

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This article presents the results of a comparative environmental risk-ranking exercise that was conducted in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to inform a strategic planning process led by the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD). It represents the first national-level application of a deliberative method for comparative risk ranking first published in this journal. The deliberative method involves a five-stage process that includes quantitative risk assessment by experts and deliberations by groups of stakeholders. The project reported in this article considered 14 categories of environmental risks to health identified through discussions with EAD staff: ambient and indoor air pollution; drinking water contamination; coastal water pollution; soil and groundwater contamination; contamination of fruits, vegetables, and seafood; ambient noise; stratospheric ozone depletion; electromagnetic fields from power lines; health impacts from climate change; and exposure to hazardous substances in industrial, construction, and agricultural work environments. Results from workshops involving 73 stakeholders who met in five separate groups to rank these risks individually and collaboratively indicated strong consensus that outdoor and indoor air pollution are the highest priorities in the UAE. Each of the five groups rated these as being among the highest risks. All groups rated soil and groundwater contamination as being among the lowest risks. In surveys administered after the ranking exercises, participants indicated that the results of the process represented their concerns and approved of using the ranking results to inform policy decisions. The results ultimately shaped a strategic plan that is now being implemented.

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