Land and Resources, Environmental Issues
Egypt has many environmental problems, and some of them complicate efforts to promote economic and social development. The primary issues are water quality and quantity, soil loss, urban growth, air pollution, and the environmental effects of tourism.
Egypt gets almost all of its water from the Nile. The quality of the river water is seriously threatened by untreated industrial and agricultural wastes, sewage, and municipal wastewater. In addition, the Aswan High Dam, which was completed in 1970, has reduced the flow of the Nile and trapped the nutrient-rich silt, which once fertilized the country’s farmland, behind it. To compensate for the loss of the silt, farmers make more use of chemical fertilizers, which add to the water pollution. To increase crop yields they use modern herbicides and pesticides, which also contribute to the pollution. Furthermore, the reduced flow of the river increases the concentration of pollutants in the remaining river water. The reduced amount of silt deposited in the Nile Delta has caused the delta to shrink, resulting in coastal erosion that threatens the lagoons that are important sources of fish. Finally, year-round irrigation, using the water impounded behind the Aswan High Dam, causes salts to accumulate in the soil, leading to the loss of some agricultural land.
The size and rapid growth of Egypt’s population have caused additional environmental problems. The expansion of urban areas into nearby farming areas infringes on the already limited agricultural land in the Nile Delta and Valley. Efforts to relieve this pressure by establishing satellite cities in the desert away from the Nile have been only partially successful because it is difficult to attract people and industries to these bleak environments. Dense urban areas such as Cairo, Alexandria, Al Minya, and Aswan have poor air quality, worsened by lax enforcement of measures to reduce emissions from industrial plants and motor vehicles. In these overcrowded cities, streets are filled with pollution-spewing cars and trucks, public transportation is poorly developed, and factories contaminate the air.
Tourism provides an important source of revenue for economic growth. However, poorly controlled construction and waste disposal in new tourist centers along the eastern coast have seriously degraded the water quality of the Red Sea. In addition, large concentrations of tourists threaten the fragile desert areas and the marine corals along the coast.
None of Egypt’s environmental difficulties is impossible to solve. However, in an economy that is short on financial resources, it is often hard to find the political will and money to invest in long-term environmental protection. Some attempts are being made to address these issues; for example, a proposal has been made to create nature parks in the Sinai region.
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