It’s the anniversary of the Black Cloud in Egypt, but nobody’s celebrating. This is the time of year that farmers typically burn off their agricultural waste because they don’t know what else to do with it. When set to flames, this waste produces unimaginable plumes of thick black smoke that billows into the atmosphere, creating respiratory hazards that put much industrial pollution to shame. But the government has been notoriously slow to address this problem, which Abu Bakr al-Shahawy, Head of the Environment Ministry’s Central Department, claims is becoming increasingly serious.
The problem is most pronounced in the Central and Eastern Delta Governorates of Egypt, where farmers burn off their hay and straw en masse – a combined 30 million tons every year. The smog dubbed by locals as “the black cloud” gets caught up in wind currents and hovers over Cairo around August every year.
Al-Shahawy lays blame at the Agricultural Ministry’s door, and told Almasry Alyoum that this department should be responsible for helping farmers dispose of their agricultural waste in a more appropriate manner than has a less disastrous environmental impact. Some farmers such as Ibrahim al-Sayyed from Daqahlia are well aware of the dangers of burning their waste and are urging the government to provide safer alternatives.
Adel Zayed, who is the Governor of Qalyubiya, affirms that agricultural waste is a burdensome dilemma and that he is looking to the private sector for help. This won’t be the first time that the private sector has bailed out the environment. In one of the country’s biggest success stories, Veolia moved into Alexandria and stepped up the city’s once unmanageable solid waste system.
Meanwhile, environmental activist Hisham Sherif told Almasry Alyoum that the waste should be turned into fertilizers, and that following his urging, they are looking into doing so. In the meantime, break out the gas masks ladies and gents.
More on Egypt’s black cloud and pollution: