Not long ago I took a trip to the Mediterranean Sea and was appalled that from Cairo’s city center, in the Nile river, to well beyond the pyramids of Giza lie mounting heaps of trash: litter on the side of the streets, abandoned vehicles, industrial discards, and a general disrepair characterizes this once great city.
But I was even more disturbed, returning in the evening, to discover a suffocating smog hovering over Egypt’s outlying villages. My hosts explained that although technically illegal, this smog is caused by burning rice straw, and warned that this was just the beginning. Hoda Baraka, whose photography we recently featured, confirms that Cairo’s annual Black Cloud season has returned.
‘Tis the season
Egypt’s Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) issued an early warning yesterday that thermal inversion levels and wind speeds were dipping, which according to Ms. Baraka is an indication that black cloud season has begun.
These low thermal levels trap warm air over Cairo, preventing smog from either disintegrating or escaping. With more than 4 million cars on the road and 12,600 factories pushing emissions into the atmosphere, Cairo is never a model for clear, fresh skies. However, with the onset of rice harvesting season, the city will experience an even more toxic, respiratory disaster.
“Burning rice straw accounts for six percent of Egypt’s air pollution throughout the year, but during the rice harvesting season this figure jumps to 45 percent,” Minister Maged George told Al Masryalyoum.
Poor enforcement and a lack of appropriate waste-management facilities has sullied efforts to curb rice-straw burning.
The Community Environment Action Project (CENACT), a joint effort between the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the EEAA to compost rice-straw and other agricultural byproducts, was launched in two villages several years ago. Nonetheless, this project, as well as other initiatives to replace current factory and vehicular fuel with natural gas, has had almost zero impact on Cairo’s overall pollution levels.
Instead, according to Ms. Baraka, the annual Black Cloud, which first appeared in 1999, appears to be getting worse.