CAIRO: In its efforts to combat pollution, the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs is launching an awareness campaign aimed at clearing the country’s skies of the notorious “black cloud – a mass of polluted air that hangs over Egypt during the fall months of October and November.
This year, the ministry is using short messaging service (SMS) and has set up a hotline (19808) to spread awareness.
“While SMS sends direct informative messages to the citizens, the hotline is used as a communication medium between the citizens and the ministry as people call in to report any incidents detrimental to the environment and if they have any inquiries, explained Haitham Kamal, head of the central administration for media and awareness at the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs.
Text messages are being circulated among citizens in the governorates of Sharqeya, Gharbeya, Qaliubiya, Kafr El-Sheikh, Beheira and Daqahleya – the six governorates with the highest levels of rice harvesting in the country.
Some of the messages being circulated – under an agreement between the Environment Ministry and mobile service operators, which send out four messages a week during the month of October – say: “Burning rice straw harms our country; “To report any incident of rice straw burning, please call 19808; “Continuing to burn rice straw destroys the environment and harms everyone’s health; and “The Ministry of Environment is holding out its hand and telling you that recycling rice straw is beneficial to the farms and the country.
The ministry has been holding a number of workshops teaching farmers how to recycle rice straw and safe methods of disposal, explained Kamal.
“We are also promoting other usages of rice straw such as animal feed, organic fertilizer and greatly supporting and promoting the industries which rely on the rice straw as a primary source of energy, such as paper production, he added.
Those air polluting bouts colloquially referred to as the “black cloud occur during the fall season when the wind decreases and thermal inversions occur more frequently; the warm air holds down the cold air, preventing pollutants from rising and scattering.
The black cloud started appearing over Egypt’s skies in 1999 and the government has taken several measures, including laws and fines, in order to prevent farmers from burning the straw after the harvest, but to no avail.
Last year Dar El-Ifta (official body responsible for issuing religious edicts) released a fatwa banning farmers from burning rice and cotton waste, citing Prophet Mohamed’s saying, “There should be neither harming nor reciprocating harm on the authority of Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri.
According to the press release issued by Dar El-Ifta, scientific research has proven that children are the ones who bear the brunt of the heavy air pollution, suffering from difficulty in breathing, lung diseases, asthma or eye infections.
The edict also condemns people involved in the practices, saying that “they are causing destruction . without any justification and this is a major sin which the Quran forbids.
The edict applies also to whoever wants to burn this waste to exterminate germs or insects in the land, as there are other methods that are less harmful.
Dar El-Ifta also addressed the government and responsible entities, asking them to contribute in stopping this phenomenon by supplying the farmers with necessary means needed to dispose of it or take it to a place where it can be used.
The Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs is planning to expand its efforts throughout the year. “We are planning to increase the workshops, particularly in Sharqeya, Gharbeya, Qaliubiya and Daqahleya, and support the industries which rely on rice straw, said Kamal.