Severe air pollution in many locations is making it hard to breathe in the Middle East. Every year there is a massive black-out in Egypt during the season when straw waste is burnt. Now you can see the fires, thanks to NASA.
Although countries like Egypt are trying to lessen air pollution by relying more on less polluting energy like natural gas, this has done little to curtail murderous air pollution problems in cities like Cairo.
A fly over smog in Cairo
Cairo’s air has been found to be the most polluting in the world in 2007.
To add “fuel to the fire” Egypt is now experiencing its annual wave of “straw fires” in it’s northern Nile Delta region.
There, local rice farmers set fire to rice straw in numerous Nile Delta areas, following the annual rice harvest. This results in large heat index increases that are shown as “hot spots” as detected by NASA satellite images, shown above.
The polluting smoke caused by these fires eventually is felt in the country’s major population areas, like Cairo. This adds to already large amounts of existing air pollution caused by vehicles, factories, and other air pollution sources.
Walk with the smog through Cairo
The result is a dark, thick smog that creates a dense “black cloud” of intense air pollution which becomes a major health hazard to persons suffering from various respiratory problems.
Often referred to as the “black cloud season”, this thick combination of intense air pollution is exasperated by 12,600 factories pushing emissions into the atmosphere.
Now considered to be an annual event, this pollution phenomenon is increased by as much as 45 per cent during the annual rice straw burning in the Nile Delta.
Silver lining: Urban agriculture sprouts in Cairo
“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,” said Environment Minister Maged George to a local paper.
He reported that annual rice production has risen more than 31 per cent; reaching 5.6 million tons. This increased production results in more than 30 millions tons of waste product.
The burning of so much rice straw and other waste products is what results in the “fuel to the fire” of Egypt’s increasing air pollution problems. And our consumption of these products from lands far away doesn’t help. While last year there was a ban on exporting rice, it seems this year the ban has been lifted.
Egyptian medium grain rice mainly competes with US and Australian rice in global markets and goes for about $800 a ton.
Read more on increasing Middle East air pollution:
Satelite photo of Nile River Delta by NASA/Science Codex: