Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1273, (3 - 9 December 2015)
Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Issue 1273, (3 - 9 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Fighting the black cloud

Mahmoud Bakr reports on the Environment Ministry’s efforts to combat the black cloud

Al-Ahram Weekly

According to Minister of State for Environmental Affairs Khaled Fahmi, the government is stepping up efforts to repel the black cloud, an acrid concentration of smog that appears annually and is largely blamed on farmers burning rice hay while preparing the land for new crops.

The Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs (MSEA) is aiming to collect and recycle 750,000 tonnes of agricultural refuse this year, Fahmi said. It has provided farmers with recycling equipment and, together with the Ministry of Agriculture, is offering incentives to investors ready to convert the hay into animal feed and fertilisers.

So far this year, 575,000 tonnes of rice hay have been recycled, compared to 388,000 tonnes last year. Small farmers have achieved their targeted recycling ratio, turning the hay into fertilisers and animal feed, the minister said.

In an attempt to reduce emissions of pollutants, the MSEA has started an inspection programme at all charcoal-making pits and some industrial plants. MSEA inspectors visited 6,779 factories in 2015, compared with 4,512 in 2014. Of those, 1,245 were found to be in violation of environmental regulations.

Security services are helping the MSEA monitor open-air burning sites. Police will be stationed at garbage collection points and landfills between 1 September and 15 November, the minister said. Such monitoring helped put out a fire that broke out at the Qattamiya dump during the Eid Al-Adha feast in late September.

The government is also examining vehicle exhaust emitted on the roads and has launched a vehicle-testing campaign. Of 45,966 vehicles examined so far, 16.8 per cent failed to meet national emission standards. More than 3,000 buses were also tested.

Ahmed Abul-Saoud, director of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA), says the EEAA is now using satellite images to monitor burning sites. Images received from the NASA-operated Aqua and Terra satellites, which provide real-time information every 12 hours, are converted into GIS coordinates and forwarded to inspection teams that can be mobilised to extinguish any fires that have been recorded. The move has led to a 37 per cent decrease in hay burning.

The MSEA’s 87 air-quality monitoring stations play an important role in the reduction of pollution. The collect data is assessed in an operations room at the MSEA, which then determines what measures to take.

A network for monitoring industrial emissions is also now in place, with 41 major industrial complexes under constant surveillance. These include 24 cement plants, ten fertiliser plants, three petrochemical companies, two iron and steel plants, an electricity company and a ceramics factory.

A total of 169 factory chimneys are now connected to MSEA-operated monitors that measure the amount of pollutants emitted. Cement companies have been instructed to restrict dust pollutants at the quarries they operate.

As a result of constant monitoring, environmental loads attributed to the companies under observation are believed to have dropped by up to half. In 2015, only seven chimneys exceeded the maximum load allowed, compared to 15 in 2014.

The stringent system of monitoring and recycling has also led to the creation of 2,160 jobs.

Increased awareness among farmers of the benefits of recycling saw smallholders collect 415,000 tonnes of hay this year, according to MSEA officials.

Environmental surveillance coverage increased by 28 per cent this year after the governorates of Beheira and Kafr Al-Sheikh were brought into the system. To further raise environmental awareness, the MSEA is planning a daily bulletin to be broadcast by state-run television.

MSEA officials report that 2015 was the least-polluting year since 2004.

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