CAIRO: A World Bank-funded anti-pollution project in Egypt is likely to have a limited effect on one of the world s most polluted countries, say local environmentalists, though some consider it an important step in a wider effort to reduce air pollution.
On March 23, the World Bank approved a $20 million loan to finance the Second Pollution Abatement Project (SPAP), the second phase of a long-term project to fight air pollution. SPAP seeks to use a combination of grants and soft loans to diminish the number of air pollutants emitted by Egyptian factories.
With this project, Egypt has received the largest resources on pollution control from the World Bank and its partners than any other country, said Hocine Chalal, the project s Task Team Leader.
Egypt has some of the highest pollution levels in the world. A recent report published by Yale and Columbia Universities ranked Egypt 130 out of 133 countries in terms of air quality.
Essam Al-Hinnawi, a senior consultant with the International Center for Environment and Development, however, said that the SPAP was not the first project to address the problem of air pollution and that results of past efforts had been very disappointing.
We have the legislation in place, but it s not implemented. To really make a difference, we would have to, for example, phase out polluting vehicles, like microbuses, he said, referring to the notoriously ill-maintained mini-vans that many Egyptians rely on for local transport. But this would create a socio-economic problem.
Mohammed Hussein, project coordinator with the Arab Office for Youth and Environment, agreed that the biggest problem was the lack of enforcement of environmental regulations. The laws are very good, and if everyone followed them, we wouldn t have any type of pollution, Hussein said. But there has to be more coordination with the Ministry of the Interior so that there s application.
According to Al-Hinnawi, there is an obvious link between air pollution and the many health problems that commonly affect Egyptians. First, there s asthma, especially in children, he said. He also mentioned that air pollution can exacerbate chronic bronchitis and heart disease in vulnerable groups, such as the elderly.
Healthy adults can also be affected, he added. They get transient illnesses, like coughs and breathing problems, more often. Pollution also causes increased blood pressure in some groups, explained Al-Hinnawi. This is in addition to the fact that some pollutants have a carcinogenic affect that is only manifested after 20 or 30 years.
The World Bank loan has encouraged other organizations, such as the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, the European Investment Bank and the Global Environment Facility, to contribute an additional $145 million in grants and concessionary loans.
The SPAP project has two goals. The first is to use soft loans to reduce industrial pollution in Cairo and Alexandria, while the second is to provide technical assistance to the Egyptian financial sector and the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, the country s main environmental enforcement body. IRIN