The negative effects resulting from the government’s plans to use coal for energy on the health of Egyptians and the environment were discussed by experts and researchers in a symposium on Saturday.
Secretary-General of the Cairo Doctors’ Syndicate Ehab El-Taher said that the decision to rely on coal for energy “will only benefit businessmen, while the damage will affect the poor”.
On the health effects of coal usage, a statement by the Doctors’ Syndicate, which organised the symposium, cited Assistant Health Minister Hanaa Amer as saying that using coal leads to both infectious and non-infectious diseases. Amer stated that diseases resulting from coal usage, including asthma and cancer, are the cause of death for 17 out of 100,000 people from the middle and low-income brackets.
The ash resulting from burning coal contains large amounts of heavy metals, which leads to mental impairment and significantly damages the central nervous system, she added.
The government approved coal usage after a cabinet meeting on 2 April, a decision that was made to address the country’s energy shortage, which worsens in the summer.
Experts, activists and rights groups fear the damage burning coal will cause to the environment. Coal is the most pollutant among all traditional sources of energy and burning it will increase carbon dioxide emissions.
Assurances from the government on 3 April that it plans to use the “latest technologies” to reduce harmful emissions to the lowest possible levels were still not enough to quell criticism. The government also said it would impose a tax on coal usage and work on amending laws to tighten penalties on violating environmental standards.
Ragia Al-Gizawy from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) denied that coal can be used if health and environment criteria are adhered to, which she said was a notion promoted by cement factories.
Saturday’s bout of criticism is only the latest. Despite the cabinet’s approval, Minister of Environment Laila Iskandar has vocally opposed using coal as an energy source, stating that it will cause health problems for Egyptians after 30 years and will lead to sanctions from the international community.
On 9 April, a coalition of four NGOs announced their resolve to resist the government’s decision to approve the use of coal. The coalition, which includes EIPR and the Egyptian Centre for Social and Economic Rights, said in a joint statement that government’s decision to use coal violates the constitution on sustainable development. The NGOs added that the tourism sector, transport sector and infrastructure will also be affected by the decision.