Saturday, November 01, 2014

Pollution Clouding Cairo

A dark cloud once again hangs over Egypt's capital. It's not economic distress. It's quite literally a dark cloud — a concentrated layer of pollution that descends on Cairo every fall, engulfing the city and reminding residents of the government's inconsistent attempts to redress a constant problem.

Read the detailed article here.

The World Health Organization does not rank cities based on levels of outdoor air pollution, but data it compiled covering 2008-2013 show Cairo is more polluted than Bangkok, Mexico City and Beijing. Though Cairo's not as polluted as Delhi in India or Karachi in Pakistan, it still has a PM2.5 level — a measure of the concentration of fine particles in the air — that is more than seven times higher than WHO guidelines. High levels of PM2.5 have been linked to heart disease and cancer.

Dirtier and Hotter (the Guardian)

Residents describe the phenomenon that has occurred in Cairo in October and November for over a decade as a black cloud, but El-Dorghamy said it's really a "brownish cloud." "It's (comprised of) a mix of volatile organic compounds — carcinogenic substances — sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and also invisible gases like carbon monoxide and other gases," El-Dorghamy said.
Black or brown, the cloud is the result of a fusion of factors including the seasonal burning of rice straw by farmers seeking to clear their fields, the fumes emitted from Cairo's notoriously heavy traffic and industrial pollutants. "It's like having smokers in a closed room and then you start lowering the ceiling," El-Dorghamy said.

The cloud doesn't loom over Cairo alone. Ahmed Hassan, who lives in the Nile Delta region that fans out northward from the capital for more than a hundred miles, said he has been experiencing pollution-related illness that affects his throat. "Look at the sky — I can't breathe," said Hassan, a lawyer. "A lot of people are sick — children, old people — all over the place."

To address the problem, Egyptian authorities monitor emissions in the cement industry and have made waste burning illegal, according to the World Bank. They have invested in infrastructure such as metro lines that could reduce pollution, while natural gas has been widely introduced in the power, industrial, housing and transport sectors.

It's not clear whether it's helping. Grass-roots efforts are limited. The government faces a slew of other concerns that may prevent it from dealing with the problem. "You can talk about environment as much as you want, but if you can't feed people or maintain an economy, the environment becomes pretty unimportant," Molyneux-Berry said.

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