Monday, October 13, 2008

Pollution Revolution

According to some sources, Cairo is one of the top five most polluted cities in the world. In terms of day-to-day living, that means that even on a seemingly beautiful day, there is a thick shroud of pollution in the air, choking the breath from even the fittest citizen in its environs. There are a multitude of factors contributing to this wall of pollution, ranging from cars that are older than I am running on leaded gasoline, to the simple fact that there simply isn’t enough space in the city for all the people living in it.

The garbage accumulated by the millions of people living in and around Cairo is just one part of the pollution problem. When I was growing up, Toronto was often referred to as “New York run by Swiss.” People often followed that up with comments about how there was never any trash on the streets. While that may not be entirely accurate today, it is the exact opposite of this town. The amount of trash found in the streets in Cairo, however, isn’t simply a matter of people carelessly tossing their candy wrappers on the ground. A large part of the issue here is that there simply isn’t enough space to throw the millions of tonnes of waste that millions of people create every day.

The most obvious sign of Cairene pollution is the rather disgusting air quality. This is a photo that I took on Saturday from a cliff in Muqattam City, which overlooks the entire city of Cairo.

As I stood on the edge of that hill and listened to our brilliant guide for the day tell us about the history of the city below us, I spotted the area where I live, the area where the Institution lies, and, off in the distance, the pyramids.

Most people remember the pyramids from movies and photos dating back to the turn of the last century. They imagine Giza surrounded by desert, accessible only after a several day camel ride. The truth of the matter is that the pyramids are located on the outskirts of Cairo and are smack dab in the middle of a population encroachment problem. There are currently thousands of people living “in the shadow of the pyramids” in what used to be desert and then later agricultural land.

From the cliff on Saturday, the pyramids were difficult to see with my naked (and practically blind) eye, yet Brilliant Guide exclaimed that he had rarely seen the city so “unhazy.” I didn’t fully appreciate what he said until I looked at my photos and noticed the grey/brown pallor that seemed to be smothering the entire city. That lovely blanket of pollution is the result of the things I have discussed here, and many other mitigating factors that I’m even less qualified to discuss like the weather and government regulations.

Before you ask what I’m doing to improve the pollution situation, I’m afraid to tell you that the answer is “nothing.” Between Hubby and I, we have taken at least 50 flights so far this year; I run the air conditioner all day because the alternative is to sweat and I don’t like to sweat; I do take taxis as opposed to driving my own car but if you saw the state of taxis in this town you’d know that was probably more damaging to the environment than driving my own Hummer; and finally I drink a lot of bottled water because the alternative is to drink the local water and there is such a thing as too much chlorine.

So what have we learned in blog-land today? Typ0 likes to complain about the environmental hazard that is Cairo but isn’t willing to do much to fix it. And that at the rate pollution is enveloping the city, the pyramids are going to be eaten by a Pollution Monster within the next ten years. I love having things to look forward to!


Connie said...

You HAVE to run the AC much of the time - not just for cooling (my apartment has windows on one side only - NW, full PM sun, no shade). You need the AC to filter the air too. Speaking of filters - make sure you clean your AC filters very regularly (we do once a month!) or your AC will die.

Anonymous said...

Our air conditioner has now gone into hibernation for the Winter but it is 25 degrees today! Better that than snow--and jut about NO pollution.

Jennifer said...

That's funny; last year Brilliant Guide said about the same thing - it was unusually clear the day we took that tour. And yes, he is a brilliant guide.