This photo shows a view of the closed Al Azhar mosque during Eid Al Fitr in Cairo, Egypt, on Sunday. Reuters
It is a Thursday evening in downtown Cairo, usually a crowded and noisy time as the weekend gets underway. But today the streets are quiet, and the air is noticeably clean.
"It has been a long time since I breathed such fresh air here and saw the sky clean like that,” observed Fathi Ibrahim, a 52-year-old resident of downtown Cairo.
Thick pollution — from vehicles, factories and power plants — usually makes breathing a suffocating effort in the heart of the city, he said. But a lockdown to slow the coronavirus pandemic has helped cleared the smog.
"We even started to listen to the sounds of birds early in the morning and the weather is also getting much better,” Ibrahim told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Since mid-March, Egypt has imposed a night curfew and a partial lockdown as a part of precautionary measures to protect public health in a nation with more than 16,000 cases of the virus and more than 700 deaths.
But the slowdown also has cut air pollution by more than a third in Cairo, a city once ranked as one of the world's 10 dirtiest.
Dirty air impacts
Cairo Traffic Department data indicates that more than three million cars, trucks and buses crowd the streets of Cairo each day.
Bassant Fahmi, an economist and a parliamentarian, said that turning to clean mass transit and encouraging more cycling would not only reduce traffic and air pollution but also boost the economy, which loses billions of dollars each year to traffic congestion and air-pollution-related health problems.
According to the health ministry, about two million Egyptians end up in chest and respiratory clinics each year, often because of air-pollution-related ailments.
About 90% of Egyptians breathe air dirty air, most of them in Greater Cairo and other cities, the ministry said.
Meanwhile, traffic congestion in Cairo costs the economy up to 50 billion Egyptian pounds, or $8 billion, each year — about 4% of Egypt’s Gross Domestic Product, according to a 2012 World Bank study.
"That is a lot of money that can be used instead in developmental projects or even ... on health and education,” Fahmi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Fahmi suggested that reviving legislation from the 1970s that obliged owners of shops, workshops and commercial centers to close early to limit traffic and pollution could also help preserve air quality gains made during the pandemic lockdown.
"That would reduce a lot of energy used by those shops as well as reduce traffic in night hours, therefore lessening the harmful effect on the environment,” she said.Reuters
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