Today’s Egypt faces a wide variety of environmental problems, some of which are growing acute. They stem from its aridity, extremely uneven population distribution and poverty, shortage of arable land and pollution.
- The greater Cairo area has the worst air pollution in Egypt. Fumes from Cairo's vehicles, combined with suspended particulate matter (including lead) and sand blown into urban areas from the neighboring Western Desert, create an almost permanent haze over the city. Cairo also has high levels of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. Other sources of air pollution are industrial sites and smoke from burned garbage and agricultural detritus.
- Heavy use of pesticides, inadequate sewage disposal and uncontrolled industrial effluents have created major water pollution problems. Half of Cairo's raw sewage is carried to the sea in open sewers and some 100 of 120 towns do not have sewer systems at all. The nation has 1.8 cu km of renewable water resources, with 86% used for farming purposes. With recent improvements, about 97% percent of the population has access to pure water.
- Egypt's cities produce 3.0 million tons of solid waste per year. Only 79% of the population living in rural areas has adequate sanitation facilities. Waste incineration is a common practice, since it is less expensive than treating it, compacting it or removing it from the city.
- Centuries of human habitation in the Nile Valley over the centuries has had a negative impact on Egypt's wildlife. Altogether, less than 1% of Egypt's total land area is protected. The hunting of any bird has been prohibited by law. In 2000, 15 of Egypt's 98 mammal species, 11 birds, 6 types of reptiles and 1 type of amphibian were endangered. About 59 of the nation's over 2,000 plant species were threatened with extinction. Endangered species include the Sinai leopard, northern bald ibis, and green sea turtle. The Bubal hartebeest, Egyptian barbary sheep, and Sahara oryx are extinct. In addition, the nation's beaches, coral reefs and wildlife habitats are threatened by oil pollution.
- Over the last 20 years, Egyptian energy consumption has risen by more than 200%. Despite this upward trend, Egypt still only accounts for 0.5% of total world energy consumption. Although Egypt's per capita energy consumption is on the rise, it is still well below the level of many European countries. As Egypt's oil reserves decrease, the country is looking to reduce its consumption of oil. Aside from hydroelectricity, Egypt is boosting its use of renewable energies such as solar and wind power. Egypt has also been experimenting with using photovoltaic (PV) panels to bring small amounts of electricity to rural areas away from the grid.
- Egypt is at risk from climate change in a number of ways. The Nile River delta, already subsiding because upstream damming blocks sediment from reaching the delta, is at risk of salination and inundation by the Mediterranean if sea levels rise even slightly. In addition, Egypt relies on the annual flow of the Nile for nearly all its freshwater, so changes in rainfall patterns in the Nile watershed could reduce available water resources, decimating the agriculture and undermining the hydroelectric power facility at Aswan. Egypt's carbon emissions have risen 34% over the period 1990-2001. While oil (72%) and coal (3%) make up three-quarters of the country's carbon emissions by fuel source, Egypt's growing market for natural gas should help slow the increase in carbon emissions.
Citizens’ community involvement
One of the most popular forms of citizen participation in Egyptian civil society is making charitable contributions, especially of a monetary or in-kind nature. Engagement in volunteer activities seems to be less popular. Overall, the most distinguishable weaknesses within Egyptian civil society’s structure include weak formal citizen participation in CSOs and poor resources.
A survey revealed that 70% of volunteers occupy white collar professions, such as doctors, engineers, accountants in addition to businessmen. Civil servants represent 19.3% of volunteers, while street vendors, workers, and other groups represented a negligible percentage of those undertaking volunteer work. This raises the question of whether NGOs are exclusive organizations that do not encourage or actively seek the participation of individuals from working class backgrounds, or whether the preoccupation with ensuring livelihoods reduces the time available for volunteer work. The survey also suggested that there is a very high degree of awareness among civil society organizations of the concept of environmental sustainability. NGOs have been active in working with communities to help them improve their direct environmental conditions as well as advocating for their rights through legal and media means.
Government environmental policies
The Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) was established in 1995, with the objective “to stimulate environmental investments and support the environmental, social and economic policies in the pursuit of sustainable development”.
There are a number of economic instruments aimed at environmental improvement, as follows:
- User charges for solid waste collection and disposal: It is paid directly to the private contractors and is charged per unit of housing whether residential or business. The fee is a monthly flat rate that is neither related to the volume or weight of the waste generated. Unfortunately, there is no exact record or data pertaining to the number of subscribers to such a service or the proceeds resulting from such a charge.
- User charges (visiting fees) for access to natural protectorates: paid by visitors to finance environmental activities and maintenance of the protectorates. The proceeds are directed to the EPF. However, the natural protectorates have not received any funding from the EPF to-date.
- User fees for the exploitation of mines and quarries: The governorates collect these fees on behalf of the government and then the proceeds are transferred to the Ministry of Finance accounts in the form of government revenues for the state budget.
- Deposit-refund schemes on certain containers that are reused on recovery: This is the case on certain beverage bottles and on Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) containers.
- Environmental charges on the cement industry
- Air Ticket Charge: A 12.5 - 15% value charge is levied on international air tickets. The proceeds of the charge are channelled to the Environment and Tourism Fund.
CSR is still a new concept for the business sector in Egypt and the majority of Egyptian companies are still unfamiliar with this concept. A study revealed that CSR activities feature more prominently among multinational corporations working in Egypt. The lowest level of CSR awareness, or interest, is found among local companies where there is minimal engagement in systematic CSR programs. However, it is becoming increasingly recognized by Egyptian companies that CSR will not only provide moral and ethical validation of their activities, but will also reinforce their reputation locally and help put them on the map globally.
CSR is gaining prominence in the business community as traditional notions of charitable giving combine with Western-style social responsibility and environmental standards to encourage more Egyptian companies to adopt CSR as part of their business culture.