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.
In a report by the 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.
The ambitious project to clean up the country’s polluted air, crowded streets and aging vehicles that contribute greatly to the dirtying of air began all the way back in 2008 with the Road Regulations Bill – which was passed by Parliament in September 2008, but did not go into full effect until January 2010. Still, it was not until late that year that older cars were supposedly forced off the road. Today, they are returning again to the streets as regulators are non-existent as Egypt moves forward in the post-revolution atmosphere, with politics trumping environmental concerns.
The government had offered loans for the drivers and installed a natural gas container in the trunk of every white taxi free of charge, but that process has stalled and has largely been forgotten since February 2011, when Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power.
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.
New York City, for example, averages around 60 particles per million, making Cairo dramatically more polluted. This has led to a rise in asthma, which Hassan Mahmoud, a doctor at Qasr el-Aini hospital in downtown Cairo, said is the major affliction they see on a daily basis for young people.
“This is directly related to too many cars on the road. Just walk in Cairo and then drive outside an hour and the air is much cleaner,” he said. “You can feel it and this is what I try to tell parents. To keep their children away from the street, especially during rush hour.”
Foreign embassies also agree, with many of them requiring their personnel to take weekend breaks from Cairo for health reasons.
While natural gas in Egypt is abundant and employing them in vehicles is a positive effort, more action and regulation 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.