written by Dr.Salah Hassanein
The air pollution in Cairo is a matter of serious concern. The air
quality in downtown Cairo is more than 10 to 100 folds of acceptable world
standards. Air pollutants that are very high are particulate, hydrocarbons and lead.
All are cancer causing agents.
What is the cost of air pollution In Cairo?
The World Health Organization reports that the Air Pollution in Downtown Cairo is
10-100 times what is considered a safe limit. Cairo is in the company of other
Cities like Mexico City, Bangkok, San Paulo, Delhi, Tokyo which are among the worst
Cities in the World in terms of air pollution.
The US environmental Protection Agency has published Risk data which states that
above the safe limit, the risk of developing serious respiratory disease and cancer
from inhaling particulate in air (dust & soot and hydrocarbons, heavy metal
compounds) is: 2 persons for every 1000. In addition to that, the dispersion
factor (how fast the pollutants in the air are dispersed because of the weather
conditions like the wind, rain ,air, temperature) makes a difference in the severity
of exposure to air pollution.
Cairo has a very poor dispersion factor because of lack of rain and its layout of tall
buildings and narrow streets, which create a bowl effect. I don't claim to have
accurate data on Cairo air Pollution. There isn't any. I can make a reasonable
assumption, that Cairo air pollution is similar to the low range of Mexico City
& San Paulo, which we have good data for. I have been to Cairo four or five
times in the past two years. The air is thick, gray and there is a haze over Cairo .
The sky is not blue but gray. Very similar to Mexico City and Bangkok. The
weather conditions make the dispersion factor twice as bad as Los Angeles, which has
good air pollution data.
Assuming Cairo has a population of 12 million, The simple risk calculation comes to
the conclusion that : half a million of the Cairo residents will develop in a period
of 5-25 years serious health problems (respiratory diseases and cancer ) that will
result in premature death. That is one person out of every twenty four persons
living in Cairo. That person can be a member of your family, a relative or a
friend. This is caused by air pollution due to particulate in air alone.
There are several other pollutants with different risk factors in addition to that
such as ozone, nitrous & sulfur oxides and carbon mono oxide, hydrocarbons.,etc.
effectively making a deadly cocktail. Assuming that each person will receive
medical treatment worth 10,000 Egyptian pounds (doctors, medication ,hospitals over
5-25 years ) the total cost will be 5 billion Egyptian pounds. Here I am not taking
into account, the additional cost of lost work days due to illness which impacts on
productivity. The cost of replacing the doctors, engineers, scientists , artists and
administrators, fathers & mothers.etc I am only considering one pollutant
out of more than twenty in the air. Also I am not considering the combined effects
of both Air pollution and water pollution. So in effect, these figures are low by a
factor of 5-10 in terms of human tragedy and low by a factor of 20 in terms of
Imagine half a million premature deaths and five billion pounds for the Cairo
residents alone. This is 10 times the lives lost in all 1948,1956,1967 and 1973 wars
. It is equivalent of one jet crashing everyday killing about 1000 everyday of the
year for 20 years. That is if the situation does not get worse. Imagine
taking 5 billion pounds from the much needed capital for developing, Job creation
and improving infrastructure and housing. How many deaths and loss of capital will
occur before we wake up and take action?
The government is semi-aware of the problems. We have very good
environmental laws. I taught a course in Cairo on how to comply with them. The laws are
not enforced because there is no effective monitoring. The rich can always cheat or
use his/her influence. The government is busy with another multitude of what seems
to be more pressing problems. The people do not know all the facts and the majority
are struggling to just live for the day. Scientists in Egypt are afraid to speak
and have adopted a see nothing, hear nothing and say nothing attitude.
The irony is that pollution affects everyone from the prime minister to the homeless
in the street. All have to breathe the same air, drink from the same source and eat
food grown in the same soil.
This, basically is what is happening now. We must do something NOW to reverse
this trend. It has to be a sustained long term effort not just a reaction to these
facts and then on to the next topic. It will take the collective thinking of many
devoted individuals . It is not an easy task but it is doable. To do nothing is not
really an option. I personally have lost my only brother to kidney failure and my
only sister to breast cancer. Both diseases are related to exposure to harmful
First we have to agree on an environmental Bill of rights for all
Egyptians that states: Egyptians should have the right to breathe clean
air, to drink clean water , to eat non contaminated food, to live in an environment
free of toxic chemicals like herbicides and pesticides. Egyptians should have the
right to access decent and affordable healthcare. They should have the right to work
and live and to have their children and grandchildren grow up and live in a
healthy & clean environment. Each generation has the responsibility to hand to
the next an environment that is the same or better but not worse.
Now how to achieve this?. I shall put some proposals based on my
experience in North, Central & South America, , Asia & Australia. It will
be a subject of another article in the near future. Stay tuned and believe me there
is a way if the will is there.
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