Egypt: Environmental Issues


Egypt is 97% desert and is therefore dependent on the Nile River for its existence. Only 5% of the land area in Egypt is actually occupied and less than 4% of the land is suitable for agriculture. Since such a small percentage of land is habitable, population densities in some areas along the Nile River are greater than 1,000 people per square kilometer.

The Nile River is the lifeblood of Egypt. The river is the main source of freshwater for household use and irrigation, a source of power from the hydroelectric facility at Aswan, and a means of transportation for people and goods.

Air Pollution

The greater Cairo area, home to 15 million people, has the worst air pollution in Egypt. Fumes from Cairo’s 1.2 million vehicles, combined with suspended particulate matter (including lead) plus sand blown into urban areas from the neighboring Western Desert, create an almost permanent haze over the city. Cairo also has high levels of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. Air quality in Cairo and throughout Egypt is measured by an every-growing network of monitoring stations (42 stations in 2001) installed with the support of USAID. Air pollution in Egypt comes from a number of sources, including industrial sites, vehicular emissions, and smoke from burned garbage and agricultural detritus.

In 2000, fine particulate matter (PM10) was Egypt’s largest air quality issue. PM10 is emitted primarily by industrial sources and vehicles and is very dangerous to human health as the fine particles can penetrate deep into people’s lungs. NOx and SOx levels were generally within limits proscribed by Egyptian law in 2000, but in industrial areas or areas with traffic congestion levels, they were sometimes higher than both Egyptian and World Health Organization standards. Finally, lead levels, although still high, decreased 30% between 1999 and 2000. Lead pollution is a serious threat to human health because high lead concentrations in the blood can lead to high blood pressure, kidney problems, infertility, decreased I.Q. levels in children, and disorders to the nervous system.

The Cairo Air Improvement Project (CAIP), sponsored by EEAA and USAID has, over the past six years, addressed air pollution in metropolitan Cairo at a number of levels. To address fine particle emissions, CAIP instituted vehicular emissions testing, the first of its kind in Africa. CAIP also has pushed the use of compressed natural gas (CNG) as a fuel for municipal buses, private vehicles, and as energy for power plants throughout greater Cairo. As of 2001, 50 municipal buses were using CNG and multiple CNG fueling stations were set up throughout Cairo. A project cosponsored by the Climate Change Action Fund of Canada and EEAA aims to bring CNG motorcycles to Egypt. This will both lower PM10 and SOx emission from motorcycles and decrease their carbon emissions. To date, there are 50 fueling stations dispensing CNG to the 40,000 CNG vehicles in the Cairo metropolitan area.

Finally, CAIP has addressed the high levels of lead in Cairo by promoting the use of environmentally friendly technologies at lead smelting plants and by supporting the removal of such facilities away from populated areas. Four smelting plants have been relocated outside of Cairo, and the new facilities are equipped with advanced pollution control technology to further reduce their lead emissions.

CAIP does not address one major cause of urban air pollution–the burning of garbage. Waste incineration in a large city can be easier and less expensive than treating the refuse, compacting it, or removing it from the city. However, fine particles are released when garbage is burned and can contribute to smog and damage human health. Rather than address this issue as an air pollution problem, Egypt has moved forward on a comprehensive waste management system that should eliminate the need for burning refuse in major cities. In 2000/2001 Egypt began the Integrated Solid Waste Management program to establish the regulatory framework in which effective waste management can operate. Over the past two years the program has progressed such that at the end of 2002 numerous sites were selected for further testing as potential landfills.

USAID, which has sponsored CAIP since 1997, ended its continuous support at year-end 2002. USAID will continue to provide technical training and some cash transfer funding for further air quality improvements, but the CAIP program has been turned over to the Government of Egypt. This transfer also marks the beginning of a transition in USAID environmental assistance to Egypt. Past programs generally have helped Egypt to establish a system of laws, regulations, and enforcement, as well as improved monitoring and the adoption of best practices and technologies. From FY2005, USAID intends to focus less on institutional infrastructure and more on actual environmental improvement.

Energy Consumption

Egypt’s rising level of energy consumption is a major factor behind the country’s air pollution problems. Over the last 20 years, Egyptian energy consumption has risen by more than 200%, from 0.7 quadrillion Btu in 1980 to 2.1 quads in 2001. Despite this upward trend, Egypt still only accounts for 0.5% of total world energy consumption, and Egypt’s energy consumption is still below that of other countries in the region; it is less than half of Iran’s (5.2 quads) and Saudi Arabia’s (4.9 quads).

Although Egypt’s per capita energy consumption is on the rise, it is still well below the level of the United States and many European countries. Egypt’s per capita energy consumption of 31.4 million Btu is significantly lower than US per capita consumption of 341.8 million Btu.

Oil’s share of Egypt’s energy consumption has been dropping rapidly over the past four years. In 1998, oil’s share in energy consumption was nearly 69% while now it is only 54%–a 20% decrease. As Egypt’s oil reserves decrease, the country is looking to reduce its consumption of oil. In addition to stemming the domestic consumption of oil (and freeing up oil to be exported for hard currency), the conversion of all oil-fired, powergenerating plants in Egypt to natural gas will contribute to protecting the environment through cleaner air. In 2001, natural gas accounted for 36.6% of Egypt’s total energy consumption.

Renewable Energy Sources

Aside from hydroelectricity, Egypt is boosting its use of renewable energies such as solar and wind power. Egypt’s New and Renewable Energy Authority is working together with the Danish and German governments to bring a large-scale wind project to the Red Sea Coast. Egypt has successfully begun a number of smaller projects and this one will bring 117 660-kilowatt wind turbines to the country. The contract for the installation of these turbines was awarded in May 2002. The project will generate 60 Mw of wind energy when completed.

The Government of Egypt has also been working with USAID to plan a combined natural gas/solar power plant in Egypt. Feasibility studies have been completed on the 127-MW plant, which will use solar energy during the day and natural gas at night. The plant, which has received funding from USAID and the Global Environmental Facility, is expected to cost $120 million and come online in 2006.

Egypt has also been experimenting with using photovoltaic (PV) panels to bring small amounts of electricity to rural areas away from the grid. PV panels have been used in rural areas to pump water from wells, to desalinate water, and to run small cookstoves. Although these types of projects are small-scale, bring even a little energy to people in rural areas can vastly improve their quality of life.

Egypt in the 21st Century

Environmental awareness in Egypt is slowly increasing through government programs and policies and highvisibility environmental conferences such as the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg in 2002. Although many of Egypt’s environmental programs are just beginning to gain momentum, the government’s awareness raising programs are preparing Egyptians to tackle their environmental challenges.

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