Middle East Research and Information Project: Critical Coverage of the Middle East Since 1971


Community Participation and Environmental Change

Cairo — a city home to upwards of 14 million inhabitants — is known to be one of the most polluted cities in the world. Although measures of pollutants in some places in Cairo exceed internationally recognized standards, popular collective action organized around environmental issues is rare. The case of ‘Izbat Makkawi, an industrial area in northern Cairo, and the successful struggle of the residents there to close local lead smelting factories is a reference point regarding possible forms of popular organizing in response to environmental pollution and sheds light on the limits and merits of community participation as experienced within the wider political context in Egypt.

Environmental Conditions in Cairo

In a 1994 assesment of environmental health risks prepared for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), American and Egyptian experts identified three leading environmental health risks for residents of Cairo: particulate matter air pollution, lead and microbiological diseases from environmental causes. The report also identified a number of less serious threats to human health, grouping them as middle, middle/lower, lower and uncertain risks. Ozone air pollution was one of two health risks in the “middle” category. The material presented below is drawn almost exclusively from this report.

Pollution, Popular Perceptions and Grassroots Environmental Activism

An increase in media attention paid to environmental pollution, and a 1994 USAID report on environmental risk assessment in Cairo, [1] reflect and have engendered a growing concern for the environment in Cairo. While grassroots political action is rare, [2] there is an awareness among the general population of issues of environmental pollution. While responses to environmental pollution have ranged from the creation of ad hoc social movements and voluntary associations to individual actions in cooperation with neighbors or fellow workers, these techniques have yet to have much impact.


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