With a population of over 20 million people, Cairo is the most heavily populated city in the Middle East, ranking second in all of Africa.
Before I moved to New York City, I knew there was a significant air pollution problem present due to overwhelming smog and ozone and high population density. Although public transit is immensely dominant for its citizens, as it facilitates the highest mass transit use in the United States, it still concentrates pollution.
After living there for nearly three years now, I consider New York’s air quality to be immaculate. Relatively, at least.
I grew up in Cairo, where many believe is the most polluted city on Earth. The level of air pollution in the city is about 10 times the amount considered safe. Furthermore, the city is located in a valley, often leading to particulates, which are the small fragments of dust detrimental to lungs, being trapped. With a population of over 20 million people, Cairo is the most heavily populated city in the Middle East, ranking second in all of Africa. For many living in densely populated cities, population is merely a number. Nevertheless, in Cairo, you can rigorously feel it all: the congestion, the noise pollution; even from the comfort of your own home, the presence of it all is unavoidable. From the never-ending honking horns to the view from your apartment balcony, the air quality of the nation has unfortunately seeped into its personality. There were many days where we were confined to our homes, as frequently, air conditions were deemed unsafe. It was visible just by simply looking out the window: the pure gray sky, bona fide dusty buildings, and empty streets. Poetic in some aspects perhaps, but repugnant in others.
Throughout my experience of going to school in Cairo, faculty consistently emphasized the importance of being environmentally friendly. And while every little effort makes a difference, Cairo unfortunately suffers from much larger issues. The country has a very large industrial sector, with overwhelmingly high levels of traffic and terrible residential waste management. To make matters worse, the miserable combination of lack of rain and tall buildings create a bowl effect, which traps air pollution.
Not to mention the noise pollution. If you complain about living above a bar or club in New York or Los Angeles, prepare to be astonished. No matter the time of day, you will hear barking stray dogs, honking horns, and notoriously loud wedding parties. A study by the Egyptian National Research Center stated that living in the heart of the city, where noise levels can amount to an average of 90 decibels and never drop below 70 decibels, is akin to spending an entire day in a factory. Still, there was a hidden beauty in spending time with friends past midnight, as even the dark sky couldn’t stop us from truly believing every moment that passed was the middle of the day.
The government of Egypt has announced an objective to decline air pollution by 50% prior to 2023, as part of a nationwide sustainable development strategy, conceivably giving citizens hope going into the near future.
Be that as it may, Cairo is intoxicating, like someone you know is bad for you but can’t get enough of. There is quite literally no such thing as a breath of fresh air in the city, but there’s no doubt its rich culture is undoubtedly refreshing.