CAIRO: As cities across the world came together on Saturday June 5 to celebrate this year’s UN Year of Biodiversity on World Environment Day (WED), the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs and Wadi Environmental Science Center (WESC) commemorated the event at Cairo’s Al-Azhar Park, under the theme “Many species, one planet, one future.”
The event was Egypt’s first carbon zero event as WESC contracted the Energy and Environmental Consultants Company (ERCC) to calculate the event’s carbon footprint which amounted to 27 tons of CO2 equivalent. The company has offset these emissions through a project in villages in Kenya.
This project is listed with the Gold Standard Foundation, one of leading certifiers of projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to sustainable development.
Minister of State for Environmental Affairs Maged George attended the opening ceremony along with other high profile guests concerned with environmental issues as well as civil society.
The minister cited examples of Egypt’s accomplishments in protecting biodiversity focusing on the establishment of various national parks and Egypt’s commitment to a treaty on biodiversity signed in 1992.
“Egypt has a national strategy for protecting biodiversity, along with plans to preserve fertile lands, tourism, and medicinal plants,” said George.
Jerry leach, professor and director of the American Studies Center at the American University in Cairo (AUC), was skeptical about the ministry’s ability to tackle the loss of biodiversity.
“The ministry’s efficacy is undermined because it is understaffed, under-funded and powerless,” said Leach.
The organizers of WED said the main aim of the event is to support the community’s active involvement by addressing environmental issues and empowering people to become active agents of sustainable and equitable growth.
The celebration of WED 2010 focused on the themes of biodiversity, together with genetic diversity, assemblages of organisms and natural processes.
Halah Mohie, a biologist and Corporate Social Responsibility specialist at Wadi Food, the company that established WESC, said that more research was needed in the field of biodiversity, as it is difficult to determine whether national parks and other government protection mechanisms are effective.
“The effect of our economic development, climate change and tourism on biodiversity should be studied in more details. A plan should be formed prioritizing research on endangered species,” said Mohie.
“One of the main issues related to biodiversity in Egypt is that the general public is unaware of all of the rare and endemic species and plants existing in the country, and plants which can be used for remedies and medicine,” said Sara El Sayed, WED project coordinator.
The event was targeted towards the youth with students coming from all over Egypt to understand more about Egypt’s biodiversity and environmental challenges.
According to the WED Project Manager Hazem Saleh, “At WED this year, there were more than 1000 students from seven governorates as well as 200 refugee students, whose visit to the event was organized by Catholic Relief Services (CRC).”
Several activities were organized on WED, including “Hands on Activities” where students performed experiments and games covering themes of water, energy, waste and biodiversity.
“This year, we linked biodiversity to the themes at WED through our activities and programs,” said El Sayed.
“One of the activities in the energy section this year is an example of nano-scale photosynthesis where students extract chlorophyll from a plant in order to understand how the plant harnesses energy,” she added.
El Sayed says that in this experiment, children are able to see a tiny voltage being produced from plants, and this is to show nature’s method of energy production.
“In an activity under the water theme, we teach children about the Black Namibian Beetle, and how it captures water using its body structure, inspiring them to create a similar structure to harness water for different plants,” added El Sayed.
NGOs and environmental institutions were also present; showcasing their initiatives and plans for a greener Egypt.
The displays included examples of organic farming practices carried out by various NGOs such as the Slow Food Movement from Italy, and a booth set up by Sekem, one of the leading agricultural companies, providing information on their efforts in government and business consulting on sustainable practices.
Technology exhibitions showed the latest environmental technologies currently used in Egypt and abroad.
This included an exhibit by Grundfos, a Danish company that specializes in environmentally friendly and efficient water pumps.
Jokers and clowns, mostly AUC theater graduates and volunteers from AUC’s Desert Development Center (DDC), played games with environment themes with the children participating.
Volunteers from the DDC played a game where children had to collect garbage cans and bottles, glued to the clothes of volunteers who were running around the park and filling large garbage bins with them.
The music line-up included the Zabaleen Band from AUC. The newly formed band uses a range of percussions instruments made from recycled materials.
Before they performed some environmentally-themed rock songs, the band had to sift through garbage to find their instruments as some visitors had mistaken the garbage bin where they stored their instruments for a real garbage bin.
A video room and an art gallery showed the winners of WESC’s annual student competition which was organized to encourage students from different schools across the country to relate art, music and film to this year’s theme of biodiversity.
“The video room, cooled in an environmentally friendly-manner is screening different biodiversity and environment-related documentaries; they’re also displaying videos that won the WED video competition,” said Yasmine Nagui, who was in charge of this year’s competition.
“On display was a gallery of the works of winners of the art competition, and a competition where students build toys out of recycled materials related to animals, plants and marine life,” added Nagui.
“It was a definitely a success, we had around 2500 visitors, most of whom were students, and we got excellent feedback from everybody. The most important thing is that people really wanted to know more information and even asked for our contacts so we could send them information on different environmental topics,” said Saleh.
“We even had visitors that enjoyed it so much; they wanted to volunteer on the spot,” added Saleh.
“It was my first time attending such an event and I thought [WED] was very well organized and interactive. The technology section was especially intriguing as it provides eco-friendly solutions, such as solar energy, to energy production,” Tamer Nabil, 23, one of the event’s attendees, said.
“However, I believe education should not be limited to children, since at the end of the day, their parents have the greatest influence on them,” Nabil added.
Caterina Macri, 57, said, “I think the idea of the event is fantastic especially as it spreads awareness. However, it seems the message has not reached all of the public yet, since there was still plenty of litter, cigarette buds and cans all over the ground.”
It remains to be seen whether the environment will be more of a priority for the Egyptian government, but the event offered a glimmer of hope that civil society could eventually push the government on the right track before it is too late.
In case this does not happen, WESC believes that education and awareness events like WED ensure that Egypt will at least have a future generation of individuals aware of the environment and how important it is to preserve it through knowledge and skills.
Visitors and members of the press were surprised to find the booth of the Ministry of Environment emptied as soon as the minister had left.
“NGOs are the backbone of the [environmental] effort around the world. Ministries of Environment don’t put a lot of effort into WED as you can see here today at WED 2010,” commented Leach.
Garbage band during their performance.
Children participate in the Toys Competition.