Thursday,24 May, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1356, (10 - 16 August 2017)
Thursday,24 May, 2018
Issue 1356, (10 - 16 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Saving the Khandak Canal

The Ministry of Environment is determined to reduce pollution in Alexandria’s Khandak Al-Arab Canal, writes Mai Samih


Fishermen in the Al-Max area of Alexandria near the Khandak Al-Arab Canal make a living out of fishing, but their livelihoods have been threatened by pollution from waste dumped in the water by nearby factories, killing the fish and causing a variety of other problems.

Fisherman Rayes Farag Anas said that “‘there are five petroleum plants that dump waste into the water that then drains from the canal into the sea. It kills the fish and especially young fish that have just hatched, representing a disaster for our livelihoods.” Anas inherited the job from his father who in turn inherited it from his grandfather, and before he turned to fishing full time he fought in the 6 October War.  

The Al-Max district spreads across the Mahmoudeya Canal, a branch of the River Nile that pours into the Mediterranean. Residents of Alexandria call it the “Venice of Egypt” since it is surrounded by water and was once inhabited by Italians, Greeks and Maltese. Their homes still remain, while Egyptian fishermen have now taken them over, preserving the style of the old homes. These are two-storey buildings made out of wood, and not far away is one of three lighthouses called “the blind lighthouse” since it has been abandoned and no longer functions.


On 12 February this year, Minister of Environment Khaled Fahmi announced that the problem of pollution would be dealt with this year, adding that the latest technical means would be used to solve the problem. Environmental impact assessments would be carried out when giving planning permission for any new factories, and existing plants would be closely monitored. European Union funds would be used for these purposes, Fahmi said.

However, fishermen like Anas want a more immediate solution. “The polluted water not only kills fish, but also human beings as well. I can recall a child who fell into the Khandak Canal and by the time the local residents had saved him from drowning he had already swallowed some of the polluted water and died. In addition, the smell is very bad, and the water is full of poisonous substances that go into the sea,” he said.

“Before the fishermen were happy, economically independent and in good health. Now they have problems making ends meet since the fish are dead and the fishermen are ill because of the pollution,” Anas said.

Head of the Alexandria Monitoring Department at the Ministry of Environment Ahmed Fathallah gave details of the measures taken by the ministry to end the problem of pollution after meeting with all the parties concerned some seven months ago. “We organised a programme to assist the Al-Max inhabitants. The place was originally an industrial area and some small workshops like wheel and car repair shops were built there without proper planning permission. This is part of the problem,” he said.

He added that the ministry was conducting inspection campaigns to seek out the places that needed help the most in collaboration with a local NGO, Friends of the Environment, responsible for collecting money donated by industry and organising clean-up projects.


Fathallah said that the NGO with the help of the companies had also provided a new medical centre and fixed the Al-Max roads that had been worn out by rain. Other companies had organised a scientific committee in charge of youth projects that train young people in skills needed in the area, even giving them the tools needed for manual jobs.

“The ministry worked with the NGO to plant trees, and we sat down together to come up with different types of solutions in both the long and the short run. The NGO as well as some petroleum and cement companies also offered the residents alternative homes and organised social consultation sessions, though there were problems about costs,” Fathallah said.

“There are about 40,000 people working in the fishing industry in Al-Max. Transferring them to another place would be like taking fish out of water. Our boats and equipment are all in the Khandak area, so if we go to any other place our stuff might be stolen. Fishermen live near their boats. Their whole life rotates around their boats. The only way out is for the amount of waste to be reduced,” Anas said.

He acknowledged that they had not yet been told if they would be transferred to another place. “We have not heard of an official transfer. Some fishermen have been offered alternative homes, but so far they have been limited in number. I doubt there will be enough suitable buildings for the whole population to be moved,” he said.

“The problem is that government organisations prevent the dumping of waste for a matter of hours, but when the inspectors have gone the problem starts again,” Anas added.  

“For many years we have been sending complaints to the ministry. We have talked to the media and the governorate. However, nothing has been done. The people in Al-Max are poor and live day by day from fishing. And there have been times when they have not been able to put a loaf of bread on the table,” he said, adding that in his view the problem was not one of moving the population but of cleaning up the water.


“If the problem was solved, people could sleep in the port or even in their boats. The problem is the poisonous substances in the water. Even if we are transferred we can deal with the disruption, but we cannot deal with the problem of the polluted water,” he said.


ENVIRONMENTAL MEASURES: According to Fathallah, the ministry has been urgently addressing the problem.

“Environmental representatives have organised awareness programmes of high quality for the residents and the petrol and cement factories representatives with the aim of reducing environmental harm and teaching them how to understand the environment. The important thing is that everyone understands his responsibilities and how to care for the local residents,” he said.

Professor of fisheries at Suez University Alaa Younis explained the effect of the pollutants on the fish. “The Al-Max Gulf is affected by industrial waste that does not dissolve in water but is collected inside the fish and can be transferred to human beings. This has been the case since 2014, and studies were conducted after people started complaining. It may be that the factory filters are not working that filter the waste before it is drained into the sea. This seems at least possible,” he said.  

Younis said the area was currently considered to be a pollution hot spot and was subjected to more pressure than should be the case. “What should be done to solve this problem is for the factories to observe an environmental plan and for the spare parts needed for the filters to be provided every three months. They should be locally made by local factories such as military production factories that should work with the environmental research centres. Even if the filters do not work as effectively as imported ones, it is better than not using them at all.”

“All forms of dumping industrial waste should be stopped, and Environment Law 4/1994 should be properly enforced. We are experiencing economic conditions that do not allow us to close these factories down, which is why the situation should be properly managed and revisited continuously over the next five to 10 years,” he commented.

According to a report from the Ministry of Environment, the Khandak Canal is a non-freshwater canal that drains water from Lake Mariout and the Qalaa Canal into the Al-Max Gulf. Petroleum companies working near the Western Agami district of Alexandria drain waste into the sea since they no longer use the Khandak Canal. In addition, the Central Authority for Environmental Affairs in Alexandria periodically inspects industrial facilities that drain waste into water channels, and it will take action against companies that are not abiding by the law, the report noted.

The authority had established a monitoring point near the Al-Max Pumping Station to spot any environmental pollutants on a regular basis, the report said. It had also talked to the local water company to provide the fishermen in the area with decent sanitary drainage to replace the former sanitary system that used to drain into the canal.

“We organised a project funded by the World Bank to help these companies environmentally, and the bank funded treatment plants for what had earlier been discharged into the sea,” Fathallah said.

“If they drained this polluted water away from the area, the problem would be solved. The petroleum companies dump poisonous substances into the water that kill the fish and make people ill. If this problem is solved, everything will be fine again and people will be happy,” Anas concluded. 

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