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written by  Dr.Salah Hassanein


The air pollution in Cairo is a matter of serious concern. The air quality  in downtown Cairo is more than 10 to 100 folds of acceptable world standards. Air pollutants that are very high are particulate, hydrocarbons and lead.  All are cancer causing agents.

What is the cost of air pollution In Cairo?
The World Health Organization reports that the Air Pollution in Downtown  Cairo is 10-100 times what is considered a safe limit. Cairo is in the  company of other Cities like Mexico City, Bangkok, San  Paulo, Delhi, Tokyo which are among the worst Cities in the World in terms  of air pollution.
The US environmental Protection Agency has published Risk data which states  that above the safe limit, the risk of developing serious respiratory  disease and cancer from inhaling particulate in air (dust & soot and  hydrocarbons, heavy metal compounds) is: 2 persons for every 1000.   In addition to that, the dispersion factor (how fast the pollutants in the air  are dispersed because of the weather conditions like the wind, rain ,air,  temperature) makes a difference in the severity of exposure to air  pollution.
Cairo has a very poor dispersion factor because of lack of rain and its layout of tall buildings and narrow streets, which create a bowl effect.  I don't claim to have accurate data on Cairo air Pollution. There isn't  any. I can make a reasonable assumption, that Cairo air pollution is  similar to the low range of Mexico City & San Paulo, which we have good data  for. I have been to Cairo four or five times in the past two years. The air  is thick, gray and there is a haze over Cairo . The sky is not blue but  gray. Very similar to Mexico City and Bangkok.  The weather conditions make the dispersion factor twice as bad as Los  Angeles, which has good air pollution data.
Assuming Cairo has a population of 12 million, The simple risk calculation  comes to the conclusion that :  half a million of the Cairo residents will develop in a period of 5-25 years  serious health problems (respiratory diseases and cancer ) that will result  in premature death. That is one person out of every twenty four persons   living in Cairo. That person can be a member of your family, a relative or a   friend. This is caused by air pollution due to particulate in air alone.
There are several other pollutants with different risk factors in addition  to that such as ozone, nitrous & sulfur oxides and carbon mono oxide,  hydrocarbons.,etc. effectively making a deadly cocktail.   Assuming that each person will receive medical treatment worth 10,000  Egyptian pounds (doctors, medication ,hospitals over 5-25 years ) the total  cost will be 5 billion Egyptian pounds. Here I am not taking into account, the additional cost of lost work days due  to illness which impacts on productivity. The cost of replacing the doctors,  engineers, scientists , artists and administrators, fathers & mothers.etc   I am only considering one pollutant out of more than twenty in the air. Also  I am not considering the combined effects of both Air pollution and water  pollution. So in effect, these figures are low by a factor of 5-10 in terms  of human tragedy and low by a factor of 20 in terms of economic costs.
Imagine half a million premature deaths and five billion pounds for the  Cairo residents alone.  This is 10 times the lives lost in all 1948,1956,1967 and 1973 wars . It is  equivalent of one jet crashing everyday killing about 1000 everyday of the   year for 20 years. That is if the situation does not get worse. Imagine   taking 5 billion pounds from the much needed capital for developing, Job   creation and improving infrastructure and housing.  How many deaths and loss of capital will occur before we wake up and take action?

The government is semi-aware of the problems. We have very good   environmental laws. I taught a course in Cairo on how to comply with them. The laws are not enforced because there is no effective monitoring. The rich  can always cheat or use his/her influence. The government is busy with another  multitude of what seems to be more pressing problems. The people do not know  all the facts and the majority are struggling to just live for the day.   Scientists in Egypt are afraid to speak and have adopted a see nothing, hear  nothing and say nothing attitude.
The irony is that pollution affects everyone from the prime minister to the  homeless in the street. All have to breathe the same air, drink from the same  source and eat food grown in the same soil.
This, basically is what is  happening now.  We must do something NOW to reverse this trend. It has to be a sustained  long term effort not just a reaction to these facts and then on to the next  topic. It will take the collective thinking of many devoted individuals . It  is not an easy task but it is doable. To do nothing is not really an option. I  personally have lost my only brother to kidney failure and my only sister to  breast cancer. Both diseases are related to exposure to harmful   environmental conditions.

First we have to agree on an environmental Bill of rights for all Egyptians  that states:   Egyptians should have the right to breathe clean air, to drink clean water ,  to eat non contaminated food, to live in an environment free of toxic  chemicals like herbicides and pesticides. Egyptians should have the right to  access decent and affordable healthcare. They should have the right to work   and live and to have their children and grandchildren grow up and live in a  healthy & clean environment. Each generation has the responsibility to hand  to the next an environment that is the same or better but not worse.

Now how to achieve this?. I shall put some proposals based on my   experience in North, Central & South America, , Asia & Australia. It will   be a subject of another article in the near future. Stay tuned and believe  me there is a way if the will is there

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