From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published January 3, 2013 12:15 PM

The Thick Haze of Cairo

The air quality in downtown Cairo is more than 10 to 100 times of acceptable world standards. 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 like effect that traps pollutants. The main air pollution problem in Egypt is the particulate matter. The most notable sources of the dust and small particles is transportation, industry and open-air waste-burning. Another significant source is the wind blowing dust from dry arid areas into the city. The air in Egypt tends to be gray with a thick haze over Cairo. Two years ago when the Egyptian government began fully implementing taxis run on natural gas, there was much praise and fanfare. Air pollution was at monumental levels in the Egyptian capital Cairo and something was needed to curtail the growing problem that was leading to health hazards, including a dramatic rise in cases of asthma among young adults. While the country’s burgeoning taxis have largely made the switch to natural gas, congestion and poor maintenance continues to see air pollution one of the biggest problems facing everyday Egyptians.

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Greater Cairo's volatile aromatic hydrocarbon levels are higher than many other similar cities. Air quality measurements in Cairo have also been recording dangerous levels of lead, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and suspended particulate matter concentrations due to decades of unregulated vehicle emissions, urban industrial operations, and chaff and trash burning. There are over 4,500,000 cars on the streets of Cairo, 60% of which are over 10 years old, and therefore lack modern emission cutting features like catalytic converters.

In recent years, a mysterious black cloud appears over Cairo every fall and causes serious respiratory diseases and eye irritations for the city's citizens. Tourists who are not familiar with such high levels of pollution must take extra care.

The black cloud, a decade-old phenomenon, has been attributed to farmers burning rice straw after their harvest. But studies show there are several contributors to the foul air, and while the government has made some progress reducing the smog level, it has a long way to go.

In a report by the Egyptian environment ministry in March 2009, Cairo is over 100 times more polluted than New York City. Today, it is estimated by the ministry of health that over 25,000 people die annually in Cairo from diseases related to air pollution.

According to the ministry of environment, which sat down with Green Prophet this month to talk air pollution, although the officials asked not to be named, the process of cleaning up the streets is being blocked as a result of the financial pitfalls of the central government. The officials, who said that air polluting particles have seen a drop from 3,000 particles per million to less than 2,000, there is still work to be done, and natural gas and removing older vehicles are paramount to this success.

The picture of Cairo appears to be dark with occasional good intentions which are not enforced. While natural gas in Egypt is abundant and employing them in vehicles is a positive effort, more action and enforcement is needed if Cairo is to clean up the air and help reduce what scientists and medical professionals have said is the fastest growing killer today: air pollution.

For further information see Air Pollution or Black Cloud.

Cairo image via Wikipedia.

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