Ramadan & Bottoms: “Egypt’s environmental challenges”

Cairo.-Isabel Bottoms and Habiba Ramadan, researchers on Environmental Justice at the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, talked about the environmental challenges that Egypt faces. To start with, they argued that many of the environmental problems are interrelated. For example, water pollution is linked with desertification. In addition, they said that the poorest segments of the Egyptian society are those more exposed to the hazards derived from the State’s failure to protect the environment.

One of the most current and controversial topics on this field is the use of coal as an energy source. During the last months, there has been a battle within the government between the ministries of Trade and the Evironment because of the demand of cement factories to use coal instead of gas as their energy source. According to Ramadan and Bottoms, the minister of Trade, Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, has become a sort of spokesperson for the cement industries, since he has pressed really hard to change the regulation that forbids importing coal.

Nour’s argument is that using coal in cement factories would save some natural gas that could be used to produce electricity for Egyptian households. He argues that coal is a cheaper than other sources and the required infrastructure can be built faster. However, Ramadan believe that the environmental problems linked to burning coal are too big to ignore. Mainly, it generates a lot of CO2, so it would increase air pollution, which is already too high in Egyptian cities. In addition, the contend that there are better alternatives that have not been explored, like burning waste.

One of the big obstacles when dealing with the environmental problems in Egypt is the lack of reliable data. This affects all fields of research, like water pollution, the other main topic of the debate. We don’t have realiable data about the quality of water all over Egypt. Bottoms explained that there three sources of water pollution: untreated domestic water; agricultural waste, and industrial waste. Out of the three, industrial waste is the most damaging to the environment.

The main problem is not that Egypt lacks regulations on water polution, or more generally on the protection of the environment, but the fact that the State does not enforce them. For example, in the case of water pollution, the ministry in charge of enforcing the rules is the Ministry of Interior. So far, it has not shown any interest in prosecuting the factories and firms that break the laws. Another big problem in Egypt is the use of illegal pesticides and fertilizers by peasants. Although people think that the soil acts as a filter that protects underground water resources, this is not true. The chemicals end up permeating the earth.

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