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Is Cairo the world’s most polluted city? ‘No’ says the government, ‘probably’ say its suffering residents

CAIRO: The Egyptian capital has long ranked as one of the most polluted cities in the world, and few people living amongst the dust and smog would disagree. 

But when Cairo was placed in the number one spot in a recent article on of the world’s filthiest, it was a step too far for the Egyptian government.

The Forbes article last month, titled “The Ten Most Polluted Cities on Earth”, referenced a study by the UK based energy firm Eco Experts.

This week, the Egyptian environment ministry refuted the claim, and pointed to what it said were a number of flaws in the methodology and results. 

The research referenced in the Forbes article was posted by the Eco Expert’s website in July. It discussed the increasing amount of pollution on a global level, as well as the wide range of negative and potentially fatal effects it has on our health and wellbeing. 

The research also said most people tend to be more aware of air pollution levels, neglecting equally harmful noise and light pollution, both of which can have a significant impact on our ability to sleep and our body’s ability to heal itself. 



The study looked at pollution data from 48 cities around the world using statistics from the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Global Ambient Air Quality Database,, and the Mimi Hearing Index. It then ranks the cities for each type of pollution and combines those rankings to give an overall score out of 100. These are used to give each city an overall global ranking.

According to the results, Cairo received a total score of 95.8 out of 100, followed by Delhi with 86.7, and Beijing with a score of 76.46.  

When looking at each measure separately, Cairo ranks third in the world, after Guangzhou and Delhi, when it comes to noise pollution, with a score of 1.7 out of 2, where 2 is the worst possible score. The Egyptian capital also ranked third in the world on light pollution, where light levels are 85 times higher than the natural sky. 

Cairo’s levels of air pollution, as reported by the WHO Global Ambient Air Quality Database, are approximately 10 times the amount considered to be safe.

The Egyptian Ministry of Environment said the Forbes article did not consider air quality over the course of a whole year, and that in Egypt this is only done through the ministry’s national network. The article made no mention or reference to the Ministry of Environment, which is the only entity legally permitted to publish data on the country’s air quality, the ministry said. 

The study was also criticised for its use of the WHO data, with the ministry pointing out that the international health organisation looks at six different factors when determining air quality, but only suspended solid particles were included in the Eco Expert’s report. 

It said that Egypt’s environmental status has actually improved according to another index, the Environmental Performance Index, climbing the list of ranked countries from 104th in 2016, to 66th in 2017. 

Facebook users were quick to respond to the ministry’s post, with many arguing that it should make no difference whether Cairo is in fact the most polluted city in the world or not considering the fact that pollution is a very real and pervasive problem in the city.

“Even if the report is true, it would be more beneficial to raise awareness on the issue so people can take action,” one user commented.

The Egyptian government has recently announced a plan to reduce air pollution by 50 per cent before 2023 as part of a nationwide sustainable development strategy.

In July, the Agricultural Professions Syndicate began implementing a new initiative to plant one million fruit trees in public spaces around the country, starting with some of Cairo’s poorer, more polluted neighbourhoods. The campaign represents an effort to tackle food security, climate change and pollution in a country threatened by all three. 

Tree planting campaigns are not a new concept, with the importance and environmental benefits of trees being known to us for centuries. “The trees clean the air, they give us oxygen,” says

“The pollution in Cairo has always been bad, but it’s getting worse and worse each year,” Mahmoud, a 62 year old doorman originally from Aswan told Arab News. “Instead of planting more trees, people are always cutting them down. No one is doing anything to help the situation, they are only adding to the problem.”

Cairo has struggled with high levels of pollution for years. The main culprits being the country’s large industrial sector, high rates of traffic congestion and poor residential, commercial and agricultural waste management. To make matters worse, the city is situated in a valley which often leads to air pollution being trapped, which when combined with a dusty climate can lead to higher levels of harmful particles in the air. 

Air pollution causes around 4.2 million deaths each year, while nearly 25 percent of deaths related to strokes or heart disease and around 43 percent of lung disease deaths are attributable to toxic air.

Severe air pollution has also been linked to illnesses like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, as well as mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.

Its effects on the mental and physical health of the world’s population are widespread and on the rise. 

According to WHO, more than 80 per cent of people living in areas where air pollution is monitored are exposed to unsafe levels of harmful air particles, with populations on the lower end of the socio-economic scale being most at risk. 

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