Cairo needs more awareness, strict regulations to protect environment

Authorities are working to maintain the environment in Cairo but the city capital is on the receiving end of a large amount of pollutants.
Sunday 09/06/2019
People ride a small boat past an oil spill in the Nile River in Cairo. (AFP)
A stubborn problem. People ride a small boat past an oil spill in the Nile River in Cairo. (AFP)

CAIRO - Egypt was one of many countries that commemorated World Environment Day, the United Nations’ biggest annual event for positive environmental action.

Egypt has worked to eradicate environmental problems that have plagued the country for decades, including an immense black cloud that covered Greater Cairo every year because of thousands of tonnes of rice straw being burned by farmers in the Nile Delta.

Egypt did away with rice straw burning by convincing farmers to recycle the straw into a wide range of products, including animal fodder and fertiliser. The Egyptian Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs provided farmers with machines for the processing of the rice straw for free.

In 2018, 200,000 tonnes of straw were collected from rice farms in the Nile Delta and converted into organic fertiliser and animal fodder, Minister of State for Environmental Affairs Yasmine Fouad said, adding that ending rice straw burning would reduce Cairo’s black cloud by 34%.

The minister noted, however, that unauthorised rubbish dumps, car fumes and emissions from factories account for the remaining airborne pollution in Cairo.

Environmentalists have called for action by the government to reduce pollution to protect public health and prevent the yearly squandering of billions of dollars on medical treatment for those affected by pollution.

Cairo, a city of almost 16 million people, has a high amount of airborne pollution, environmentalists said, which draws Cairo under the microscope for this year’s World Environment Day, whose theme was “Beat Air Pollution.”

“There is an urgent need for action on pollutants in this city,” said Khaled al-Qadi, an environmental expert. “I do not think the authorities are working enough to put an end to the causes of pollution in Cairo or to even reduce it.”

Authorities are working to maintain the environment in Cairo but the city capital is on the receiving end of a large amount of pollutants.

Apart from human activity, Cairo must deal with hundreds of thousands of vehicles from other cities every day because almost all ministries and important institutions are concentrated in the capital.

Northern Cairo has hundreds of factories that produce items, from plastics to textile products, and emit huge amounts of smoke into the air. Southern Cairo has Egypt’s largest cement factories that vent toxic materials into the air as well.

In 2017, 40,000 Egyptians died because of pollution, the UN Environment Programme said. It said the absence of trees in Cairo contributed to the problem of air pollution.

In 2018, British energy firm Eco Experts, after analysing data from 48 cities worldwide, ranked Cairo as the world’s most polluted city. It said, on an average day, residents breathe air plagued with particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometres that is 11.7 times more than the level considered safe by the World Health Organisation.

Egyptian authorities contested the findings and said they are trying to address the causes of pollution throughout Egypt.

The Egyptian cabinet introduced the National Solid Waste Management Programme on June 5 and said the programme would combine the best management practices.

On June 3, The Egyptian Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics, said carbon dioxide emissions from petroleum and natural gas consumption in Egypt dropped 1.5% in 2017-18, compared with the previous year.

The drop in the emissions came as Egypt reduces dependence on traditional fuels and increases use of renewable energies, the agency said.

This progress, experts said, highlights the need to put the environment at the centre of the attention of the government and the general public.

“There is an urgent need for more awareness about the importance of protecting the environment,” said Sherine Farrag, a member of the Energy and Environment Committee in the Egyptian parliament. “We are also badly in need of laws that punish those who cause pollution.”