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Egypt Coughs During COP27

FILE: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (left) attending the Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin, Germany July 18, 2022 with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Many activists in Egypt are voicing their concerns about the nation's harmful environmental practices as world leaders continue in Sharm el-Sheikh for the COP27 climate summit.

With the eyes of the world on Egypt as it hosts COP27, Egyptians don’t have to look far for the devastating effects of pollution.

Egypt is home to 104.3 million people, one of the most populated countries in Africa. For years, Egyptians have been breathing air that contains high levels of some of the most poisonous particles.

The Egyptian government itself acknowledges that millions of people seek treatment nationwide for respiratory problems caused by polluted air – which World Bank says causes around 2,600 premature deaths in Cairo alone each year.

AF, an Egyptian Engineer who spoke on condition of anonymity to VOA Africa, says that the government has taken steps to counter climate change, but it's not enough.

“Egypt started taking serious steps to go green such as opening a green hydrogen production plant. However, farmers still burn huge amounts of rice straw and pollute the environment, so there should be serious actions to stop the burning.”

The practice results in thick layers of smog and toxins, or “black clouds,” in Egypt that darken the sky.

A state-funded channel in 2021 said that the burned straw – which some farmers MISTAKENLY believe be good for regenerating the soil – has been collected from 621 collection sites across six governorates: Dakahlia, Qalyubia, Sharqia, Gharbiya, Kafr El-Sheikh, and Beheira.

Black clouds first began forming over the Nile Delta and Cairo in 1997, due to the burning of the dry stalks of grain at the end of the harvest season but did not become visible to the eye until 2019.

Much of Egypt’s infrastructure depends on fossil fuels to power the nation. Even though the country is working on going green, Egypt is still a developing country with many obstacles which make the transition difficult.

A solar power complex named Benban -- said to be the largest in the world -- makes Egypt a leader in renewable energy. But questions remain over Cairo’s long-term green energy strategy, and whether there are enough incentives for the cash-strapped government to supply 42% of the country's electricity from renewable resources by 2035.

Amany Hussien, a mother of two, says that she’s not concerned about straw and air pollution when the economic situation has become so dire, and she can’t provide food and meet the basic needs of her children.

“The prices have become so expensive. Look at the cost of milk and eggs. A carton of eggs has increased from 38 Egyptian pounds last year to 72 pounds [or from about $1.50 to 3.00]. How are people going to keep up with that?”