Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
2 - 8 December 1999
Issue No. 458
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

Front Page

What goes round comes round

By Salama Ahmed Salama

Salama Ahmed Salama The smog that has been suffocating millions of residents of the capital and its environs is only the tip of the iceberg: it merely hints at the unimaginable environmental crisis threatening people's health and undermining their ability to work, not to mention their right to live in a clean environment. Although we like to blame natural phenomena (the absence of wind, low-lying cloud banks) for pollution, we must come to terms with the fact that most pollution is made by human beings and their reckless behaviour.

Industry and other human activities, which are largely uncontrolled by health and safety rules, are bound to become destructive. They will inevitably turn against their perpetrators, weakening and eventually incapacitating them. Nor will those who are directly responsible suffer alone.

The countries that are making an impact on development today are those which have set down rules and standards to govern their behaviour, as individuals and as communities. Scientific and technological progress are the expressions of rational social planning: they constitute a way of life, a system of work and a mode of government, provided the people are accorded equal opportunities to education, knowledge and employment. With its millions of inhabitants, its thousands of tons of garbage and waste material, its hundreds of factories, workshops and foundries in all areas, Cairo desperately needs a local, autonomous system for the collection and disposal of waste. The capital also needs rigorous legislation banning workshops, foundries and coffeehouses from its residential areas. A strict system to regulate traffic on the capital's roads is also crucial, and would only cost half the amounts spent on processions and bodyguards.

Without such drastic measures, we cannot seriously ask people to refrain from the patterns of behaviour that have turned our streets and alleys into garbage dumps. Officials had better find some other excuse for the cloud of smog: they cannot blame Egyptian farmers for having conspired to damage the quality of the air by burning the debris of their rice and cotton crops tens of kilometres away in Qalyubiya and Sharqiya.

While we are speaking of pollution, it is also time to take some serious action against the numerous loudspeakers affixed on any street or alleyway where a mosque or small prayer room is found. The cacophony is disturbing to people going about their daily business, let alone to those who happen to be sleeping or ill. On the other hand, these loudspeakers are now largely regarded as pastimes for pensioners with nothing better to do, and who fancy themselves broadcasters, regardless of the impact on religion or the peace and tranquillity of others. One loudspeaker, whether inside a mosque or a funeral tent, a wedding hall or a nightclub, is quite enough.

Addressing air pollution could provide a golden opportunity to bring up a number of environmental issues. It is a chance not to be missed, and it is time now to persuade the public that thoughtless behaviour is not only a hazard to others: it endangers their personal safety, too.

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