By Nourhan Dakroury
Eleven rights organisations, including the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and Greenpeace, released a joint statement on Sunday expressing concern about the recent Egyptian government decision to switch the fuel source in energy-intensive industry sectors to coal.
The statement was in response to the Ministry of Industry’s announcement that it will change the energy resource in cement plants and three power plants, which are still under construction, to coal.
The joint statement noted that “the decision of the government neglects dangerous pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the burning of coal, and the magnitude of the hazardous pollutants and radiation as the main cause for diseases and health risks, worsened for incinerator workers or residents in the surrounding areas.”
The statement added that not only does the burning of coal affect the air, but it also affects the water and soil in the surrounding area.
“Among all fossil fuels, coal is the most polluting and the whole world is turning away from it,” said Ahmed El-Droubi, Greenpeace campaigner in the Arab World, adding that the indirect cost of coal is twice as much as its direct costs, since the government has to deal with the negative impact on health and the environment.
Compared to natural gas and diesel, which are the energy sources currently used in cement factories, coal has more impurities and releases particulate matter even before it is burned, leading to disastrous effects on the environment, especially after burning it.
The statement compared the decision made by the current government to the policies of former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, claiming that they only aim to maximise “the value of the investment alongside rapid returns, without the slightest regard for sustainability or taking notice of the environmental impacts.”
The rights organisations added in the statement that the government is jeopardising its people’s health to make more profit, and described the step as “a crime of great proportions against Egyptian society’s present and future generations.”
“It’s absurd how fast the decision has been taken without informing the public and asking for its opinion,” El-Droubi noted, adding that this step was unnecessary since the cement industry in Egypt is a very successful one, despite the current energy crisis that the country is facing.
At the end of the statement, the organisations demanded that government outline a plan analysing the environmental and health risks of coal before implementing further changes, given coal’s possible negative economic, social and environmental effects.