Cairo's air needs help.
Air pollution has become a fact of life in this mega-populated city. It's even reached the point where the black fumes have stopped bothering the drivers and passersby anymore.
They ask, resignedly, "What can I do?!" or shrug their shoulders as they utter that typical Egyptian expression, "Ma'alesh [Never mind or take it easy]."
But the level of air pollution in downtown Cairo is between 10 and 100 times higher than what is considered a safe limit, according to the World Health Organisation, making Cairo one of the world's most polluted cities, and a solution must urgently be found.
"We all know we have a serious problem with the black cloud, resulting basically from the open burning of waste, especially agricultural waste," says Mona el-Aguizy, programme manager for Climate Change Risk Management (CCRMP), affiliated to the Ministry of Environment.
As in other countries, air pollution in Egypt comes from many sources. Here, the levels of dust, small particles and soot in the atmosphere are far higher than in industrialised countries.
Some of the sources for these pollutants, such as industry, open-air waste burning and transportation, were problems for most countries only 10 to 20 years ago, but now they have managed to overcome the problems.
Climate change tops the list of global problems and there are various initiatives that have been suggested to get Egypt out of its environmental fix.
These initiatives include the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which allows a country with an emission-reduction or emission-limitation commitment under the Kyoto Protocol to implement an emission-reduction project in developing countries.
In Egypt, a lot has been done to promote CDM and reduce emissions.
In 2005, the CDM Designated National Authority was established, followed in 2009 by the CDM Awareness and Promotion Unit (CDM-APU), a new unit in the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EE).
They work under the umbrella of the CDM Component of the Joint Programme for Climate Change Risk Management in Egypt (CCRMP).
"When we first started we only had three projects registered, but now we have 13 registered projects and 11 more willing to join, with another seven under validation," says Ahmed Medhat, the Operational Manager of the CDM-APU, adding that the unit works on the promotion of CDM projects, as well as building CDM's national capacity.
CDM projects in Egypt include a charcoal kiln that aims at substituting a clean and more efficient method for the traditional method of charcoal production.
Charcoal is traditionally produced in Egypt from wood in earth-pits. These open pits, usually unlicensed, are located in 18 different governorates; however, 70 per cent of them are located in major clusters in six governorates in the Delta.
The traditional method of charcoal production releases considerable quantities of harmful emissions, one of the major contributors to the black cloud that settles over the capital every Autumn. It also causes seepage of tar into nearby water channels.
Nevertheless, turning to more environment-friendly techniques seems quite challenging.
"It is hard to convince the modest workers in traditional open pits that their work seriously affects the environment and that they have to change it in order to reduce the harmful emissions," says Nader Hussien, from the Environment Protection Society (EPSA), which is putting the CDM into practice in el-Beheira Governorate.
"So we have to speak their language and provide them with statistics, so that they can see that the new technique is more beneficial or at least won't adversely affect their jobs."
The charcoal production cycle in the open-pit method takes from three to five weeks, and the productivity is as low as 20 per cent. On the other hand, the productivity of eco-friendly kilns hits 35 per cent and the production cycle is much shorter than that of the traditional method.
This project is just one example of how Egypt's environmental problems could be solved. However, such ideas need to be given more attention and applied on a wider scale, if they are to be really effective.
Mona, from the Ministry of Environment, stresses that we need more eco-friendly projects and also need to get as much as we can out of them.
"We want to be sure we get the necessary political support, in order to scale up our projects and make a bigger impact," she concludes.
Copyright Eltahir House 2013
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