Pollution in Egypt: Global Consequences to Poor Environmental Practices

All over the world, environmental issues are coming to the forefront of politics due to increased severity of environmental disasters.  Environmental concerns are often addressed in stable nations like Germany and the United States, but in countries riddled with numerous political and socio-economic problems, environmental concerns take a backseat. In countries such as Egypt, the environment is imperative to increasing growth and stability in the region. Environmental concerns need to be addressed in Egypt in order to prevent more damage and increase the standard of living of people in the region. One of the biggest environmental issues in Egypt is that of pollution [1]. Egyptians are faced with excessive garbage, sewage, unclean streets, polluted air, undrinkable water, and noise pollution. While all of these issues are important, water and air pollution in Egypt are two of the most threatening environmental issues in the country; when asked in a poll to consider the most threatening forms of pollution, many living in Egypt were shown to agree [2].

threatening pollution

Figure Credit: Hopkins and Sohair, “Living with Pollution in Egypt.”

Water pollution considerably affects people’s ability to obtain and use water, as well as maintain healthy living standards. Egypt is “one of the developing countries which is likely to be a drain on the Earth’s dwindling resources and contribute to environmental degradation,” and has been listed among the ten countries that are threatened by want of water by the year 2025 due to the rapidly increasing population [1]. The people of Egypt obtain about 97% of their water from the River Nile, and the rest from winter rain and non-renewable ground water aquifers. Much of this water is polluted through industrial activities.

Although industrialization is essential in developing countries, it has also led to the deterioration of the environment. Since the 1950’s, many industries have developed in Egypt along the Nile Delta, the most prominent types s in the country being in food, metal products, and textiles. Industrial waste liquids from all these industries are often deposited into the water and result in the major chemical threat to agriculture land.  Much of the industrial waste liquids are untreated, and end up laden with organic or heavy metals, or corrosive and toxic substances.  Untreated industrial wastes of more than 350 factories are discharged directly into the Nile and Mediterranean, polluting the water [3].

Air pollution decreases health and causes many other issues [3], such as physiological disorders, skin cancer, eye cataracts, respiratory ailments, heat-related illnesses, and even deaths, which ultimately weaken the public health infrastructure [1]. In fact, a study carried out by PRIDE/Chemonics International for USAID attributes the three highest health risks from environmental problems as particulate matter, lead, and microbiological diseases from environmental causes [1].

There are many reasons for air pollution in Egypt, especially in big cities like Cairo.  As is the case in many other cities around the world, overcrowded areas and industrialization contribute to the air pollution issues; examples of this industrial contribution include open-air waste burning, a common practice in Egyptian households, and automobile exhaust [2]. However, unlike other industrialized countries, the formation and levels of dust, small particles, and soot are more prominent in Egypt. Primarily, the climate contributes to the air pollution, as the windblown dust from arid areas prominently cover the cities in sand [4].  And particularly in Kafr al-Elow, a village eighteen miles south of Cairo, air pollution is a problem because of a nearby cement plant and other industries.

There is some progress in terms of environmental issues in Egypt.  In 2003, a committee of Islamic university professors drew up the first ever Islamic charter on environment.  In an article published by Global Information Network, it is stated that “500 Muslim scholars and professors from 20 Arab and Islamic country agreed in an international conference last May on the importance of drafting an Islamic charter on the environment to be ratified during the league’s upcoming meeting in Beirut” [5]. Many in the country believe that several Quranic verses pay attention to the environment, and the charter will attempt to make clear exactly what Islam says about the environment and how to protect it from pollution.  Additionally, it urged Muslims to make the best use of natural resources for the welfare of mankind.  The vice president of Cairo University, Ahmad Fouad, said that “‘The charter’s items are based on two basic principles: heading off everything that has a damaging effect on society, and contributing to the welfare and prosperity of humanity’” [5]. Fouad believes that the Islamic approach towards environmental concerns in Egypt is very important, but he also knows noted that scientific research on the topic is equally as important [5]. While the plan for this charter is ambitious and a step towards effectively addressing environmental issues in the country, the implementation of the charter is still not near reality.

Additionally, there have been many different environmental agencies that have been created at the ministerial level all over the Middle East with the need “to contain, prevent, and clean up the production of waste materials associated with industrialization and with population growth, especially in cities” [2]. Non- profit organizations have been established in order to address the environmental issues in the Middle East; one example is Green Compass Research, which was founded by Moshe Terdiman in February of 2011.  The organization aims to research the specific environmental challenges facing the Arab and Muslim world and educating and advising decision makers, companies, and organizations on how to address such issues [6]. International support will also help Egypt address its pollution problems. The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors approved a Global Environment Facility grant for Egypt for US $7.15 million to support the Alexandria Coastal Zone Management Project. This project aims to improve institutional mechanisms for the sustainable management of coastal zones in Alexandria [7]. This international support, as well as pollution awareness within Egypt will help address the issues of water and air pollution within the country. Continued efforts will hopefully pave the way to a more healthy environment.


1. Tantawi, Passent, Nicholas O’Shaughnessy, Khaled Gad, and Mohammed Abdel Salam Ragheb. “Green Consciousness of Consumers in a Developing Country: A Study of Egyptian Consumers.” Contemporary Management Research. 3. no. 1 (2009): 29-50.
2. Hopkins, Nicholas S., and Sohair R. Mehanna. “Living with Pollution in Egypt.” Environmentalist. 23. (2003): 16-28.
3. Hussein I., Abdel- Shafy, and Raouf O. Aly. “Water Issues in Egypt: Resources, Pollution and Protection Endeavors.” CEJOEM. 8. no. 1 (2013): 16-28.
4. Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, “Main Air Pollution Problems in Egypt.”
5. Aya, Farouk. Global Information Network, “Egypt: New Charter Seeks to End all Kinds of Pollution.” Last modified 2003.
6. Terdiman, Moshe. Green Compass Research, “Green Compass Research.”
7. United States World Bank, “World Bank Supports Alexandria Coastal Management Project.” Last modified 2010.

Shilpa Muralidaran is a Senior at The George Washington University majoring in International Affairs with a concentration in the Middle East. Follow The Triple Helix Online on Twitter and join us on Facebook.