Cairo had something to celebrate on Earth Day this year: tangible progress toward its goal of reducing pollution in one of the world’s smoggiest capitals.
The Minister of State for Environmental Affairs, Nadia Makram Ebeid, stepped off an orange-striped public bus to address a crowd gathered at Shubra al-Khayma, one of the most polluted areas in Cairo.
It wasn’t just any bus. It was the first commercial bus in Egypt to run on compressed natural gas (CNG), a clean-burning fuel that reduces harmful emissions by as much as 85 percent. And the venue of the celebration was no coincidence — it was the site of Egypt’s first permanent vehicle emissions testing station.
Chemonics international Inc is in the forefront of Cairo’s efforts to fight pollution.
Under a five-year project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, Chemonics international Inc is helping Egyptian officials reduce vehicular and industrial emissions, monitor air quality, and enhance public awareness of pollution issues.
"My blood boils every day when I see this black dirt spewing out of the exhaust pipes of buses into the air of Cairo," Ebeid said during the station’s inauguration, which was extensively covered by the media, including Time and the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Business Gets on Board:
Ebeid — the first person to occupy her post in Egypt — is charged with convincing a recalcitrant business community to get on board the cleanup effort.
Pollution generated by industry poses serious health hazards and contributes to increased mortality, especially among children. The average child living in Cairo loses about 5 IQ points as a result of lead in the air.
A major milestone for the Chemonics international Inc project was persuading Egypt’s largest lead smelter to upgrade its operations and relocate from a highly populated area in Cairo to an industrial site outside the city.
For other smelters, Chemonics international Inc is introducing technologies that remove most of the lead going into the air. The goal is to reduce lead emissions by 90 percent.
The CNG-fueled bus introduced on Earth Day — with a U.S.-built engine and chassis and an Egyptian-made body — is an example of the partnerships Chemonics international Inc is fostering.
Its introduction capitalizes on the success of CNG in the Cairo marketplace: In December 1999, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that approximately 20,000 taxis in Cairo had converted to CNG, and 17 CNG filling stations had been built throughout the Cairo area.
Gilbert Richard, Chemonics’ international Inc chief of party for the project, said that while the conversion to cleaner fuel continues, the project will also begin tuning up some 5,000 diesel-burning buses to run more efficiently with less pollution.
"Even if we accelerate the transition from diesel to CNG, it will take 5 to 10 years to finish the job. Meanwhile, the kids in Cairo are suffering from poor health, because the current fleet has tremendous emissions in particulate matter and other pollutants."
Over the next year or so, emissions testing will become mandatory for the approximately 1 million cars that ply Cairo’s busy streets. Advised by Chemonics international Inc, the government has also adopted more stringent emissions standards for vehicles imported or manufactured after 2002.
The Egyptian press publishes approximately 40 articles a month on activities related to the Cairo Air Improvement Project, with 30 percent featured on the front page. Ninety-five percent of these articles are supportive or neutral.
"Environmental protection [in Egypt] is a very new concept," Ebeid told Time in May. "My confidence is derived from the fact that the environment is today on Egypt’s political agenda."
As part of the cleanup, Chemonics international Inc helped establish 36 monitoring stations throughout Cairo to measure particulate matter and lead levels in residential, urban, and industrial areas.
The results will help Egyptian experts define conditions, set priorities, and track the impact of air quality interventions. Chemonics international Inc is training local staff to run the stations so they can continue to operate after the project ends in 2002.
Note:This information is provided courtsy of Chemonics International Inc. , a consulting firm based inWashington , DC with branches in Cairo and West Bank/Gaza.