Egypt: Environmental Issues ( Part One ):
As a country with an arid landscape, little rain, and 97 percent desert, Egypt is dependent on the Nile River for its existence. The Greek historian Herodotus (c. 486-425 B.C.) observed that Egypt was a "gift of the Nile," and today nearly the entire population of Egypt continues to live in the narrow bands of the Nile valley.
Modern development has placed great stress on Egypt's environment, however. Population density, combined with long-postponed infrastructure investments, has severely overwhelmed water and wastewater services of urban areas, creating numerous environmental hazards.
Oil pollution and careless anchoring of boats have damaged coral reefs off the coast, as have pollution from urban and industrial sources and improper disposal of solid wastes. Rapid population growth is straining natural resources as agricultural land is being lost to urbanization and desertification, and the drains and branches of the Nile are being contaminated with pollutants, chemicals, and heavy metals.
The need for better environmental protection in Egypt is clear, and threats to the country's cultural and ancient treasures--as well as the health of Egyptian citizens--is making environmental protection more of a government priority. In 1994 Egypt passed the "Environmental Protection Law," supplanting a presidential decree from 1992, providing the foundation for Egypt's environmental protection efforts.
The Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) was created to formulate environmental policies, develop, undertake, and oversee environmental protection efforts, and promote environmental education in Egypt.
In Cairo, which is home to one-fourth of the Egyptian population, air pollution is an extremely serious problem. Fumes from Cairo's 1.2 million vehicles, combined with suspended particulate matter (including lead) plus sand blown into urban areas from the neighboring Western Desert, create an almost permanent haze over the city.
The concentration of total suspended particulate matter in Cairo is 5-10 times higher than World Health Organization guidelines, and on average, sulfur dioxide is four times higher, smoke and lead three times higher, and nitrogen oxides two times higher.
This situation is worse in industrial areas and busy traffic spots, where air pollution is between three and four times the accepted level of 70 micrograms per cubic meter. The concentration of lead in certain areas of Cairo can exceed by 20 times the maximum level set by the World Health Organization of 1 microgram per meter.
Levels of suspended particulate matter and lead pollution in Cairo are perhaps the highest in the world. Lead pollution is a serious threat to human health because high lead concentrations in the blood can lead to high blood pressure, kidney problems, infertility, decreased I.Q. levels in children, and disorders to the nervous system. Particulate matter is a significant health hazard because fine particles enter the respiratory system during inhalation and are transported deep into the lungs. Air pollution in Cairo is estimated to cause between 10,000 to 25,000 additional deaths per year.
In response, the government of Egypt, the EEAA, and several donor agencies are collaborating to monitor pollution and implement programs to improve air quality. The "Cairo Air Improvement Project," (CAIP) initiated in 1995, is supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development and four programs are being implemented in partnership with EEAA and the Organization for Energy Planning.
In the Vehicle Emission Testing (VET) program, CAIP is aiming to reduce vehicular emissions of harmful air pollutants and improve fuel efficiency. The testing program, along with a Tune Up Certification Program, is designed to encourage motorists to tune up their engines to reduce harmful emissions from faulty engines.
In December 1994, a pilot VET program demonstrated that a low-cost tune-up resulted in significant carbon emission reductions (62 percent ), as well as fuel efficiency gains of nearly 15 percent on average. CAIP hopes that a the large-scale implementation of a vehicular testing program will bring 80 percent of vehicles on the streets of Cairo into compliance with government emissions standards.
The Lead Smelter Action Plan (LSAP) is designing a large private sector smelter in Cairo with pollution-control technology. Because only unleaded fuel is sold in Cairo (the rest of the country is expected to follow suit by 2002), smelters are the main source of lead pollution in Cairo; three lead smelters produce between 40 percent to 60 percent of lead pollution in the area.
As part of the LSAP, CAIP also is assisting public smelters in upgrading their operations and remediating their property, with the goal of reducing lead emissions from smelters by 90 percent.
In several instances, CAIP has helped to relocate lead smelters outside of Cairo to reduce particulate matter and other forms of air pollution: in April 1999 the largest lead smelting company agreed to vacate its facilities in Shubra al-Kheima in industrial northern Cairo, where there is chronic air pollution from a heavy sprinkling of factories and a densely populated residential district.
In return, the Egyptian government will build the company a new facility equipped with modern technology and emission control systems in an industrial site outside Cairo.
A third component of CAIP is the development of a fleet of public transportation buses fueled by Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). By converting buses to CNG, the program seeks to reduce overall particulate emissions. The government has given itself five years to have all vehicles operating in the Cairo area operating on natural gas, in line with the 1994 law on the environment.
On Earth Day 2000, CAIP opened the country's first station for treating exhaust systems on buses to cut their toxic emissions. The station is symbolically located at Shubra al-Kheima. In addition, CAIP is establishing an air quality monitoring system for measuring fine particulate matter and airborne lead in the ambient air in Cairo.
CAIP has 36 monitoring stations around Cairo, 7 of which are co-located with another EEAA project, the Environmental Information and Monitoring Programme. This project consists of a series of monitoring stations that check lead levels and help experts build an information database as part of Egypt's ongoing efforts to reduce air pollution.
Source: United States Energy Information Administration.
Note: The information is from May 2000.
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)