Minister of Environment Khaled Fahmy said he welcomes any lawsuits filed against him from the Alexandria district of Wady Al-Qamar, in a phone interview with Daily News Egypt Monday.
A lawsuit was filed by the residents of Wady El-Qamar, Alexandria against Fahmy, the Alexandria governor, and Titan Cement Egypt for using coal in their cement production. The use of coal creates highly hazardous emissions, given that the group’s cement plant is located only about 10 metres away from the residential block.
The lawsuit was filed to the State Council by dozens of families on Saturday, calling on the accused to repeal the ministry’s decision to allow the factory to use coal, as well as former prime minister Ibrahim Mehleb’s decision that allows coal use in residential areas.
In April 2015, Mehleb officially outlined the regulations for coal use, two years after discussions began, in light of a significant natural gas shortage. The new code of conduct stated that coal use is allowed in residential areas, with exceptions in certain cases in order not to harm “the general interest”.
Fahmy said the ministry previously sent two committees to examine the problem. The committee however claimed that the pollution is coming from increased truck traffic on unpaved roads and not from Titan. He also said the ministry has previously offered the families alternatives to leave the area, which they refused.
“Coal use is applied with strict measures and the ministry strives to enforce those measures on all factories,” Fahmy said.
“All factories use coal according to the new regulations and generally factories were built before the area had become residential,” TCE Vice Chairman Medhat Stefanos said. “The factory will not move, nor will any other factory, since their investments make more than EGP 1bn.”
“We filed the lawsuit in response to the ministry’s latest visit in December, which was very disappointing and did not meet any of our needs, as the minister kept defending the factory,” Hany Abo Okeil, one of the residents who filed the complaint, said.
“We visited the Respiratory Hospital in Alexandria with a random group of families form the neighbourhood. It turned out that all of them were sick with respiratory problems due to the factory’s emissions, according to their medical reports.”
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) issued a solidarity statement with the families of Wady El-Qamar in their lawsuit. “There had to be some sort of confrontation, even if the lawsuit took many years. However we hope it will be resolved soon,” environmental researcher Ragia Al-Gerzawy told Daily News Egypt.
In an earlier visit by Daily News Egypt to Wady El-Qamar, it was discovered that many families had actually moved out to live in Agamy, the nearest neighbourhood to Wady El-Qamar, after facing severe health problems from the factory’s emissions. However, hundreds are still trapped there, as they cannot afford living anywhere else.
Additional reporting by Shaimaa El-Badawi and Nihal Mounir