El Kharga: What do we know about Egypt’s first eco-friendly city?

El Kharga: What do we know about Egypt’s first eco-friendly city?
El Kharga: What do we know about Egypt’s first eco-friendly city?

El Kharga: What do we know about Egypt’s first eco-friendly city?

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  • BBC – Cairo

El Kharga: What do we know about Egypt’s first eco-friendly city?

In the heart of Egypt’s western desert lies a city far from the hustle and bustle of the capital. Palm trees and greenery greet you as you approach the entrance, and the purity of the air prompts you to turn off the car’s air conditioning and open the windows. A town titled “No Pollution Here.. Welcome to Kharga.”

Last June, Egyptian Environment Minister Yasmine Fouad announced the city of Kharga in New Valley Governorate as the first eco-friendly city in Egypt, emphasizing the government’s desire to present Al-Kharga as a successful model during the COP27 Sharm El-Sheikh climate summit.

The BBC team traveled to Kharga to see closely the elements that qualified the city for this title and the possibility of applying the ‘Kharga model’ to larger and more polluted cities like Cairo.

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The tree belt around the city of Kharga

Why Kharga?

The city of Kharga is the capital of the New Valley governorate in southern Egypt and covers an area of ​​85,000 square kilometers with a population of no more than 96,000.

The city has a strong green belt and started to embrace solar energy in the last decade. Despite its small population, as you walk the streets you feel a collective awareness that “this city is ours… let’s preserve it”.

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Solar panels on the roof of Al Kharga Secondary School for Boys

Go for clean energy first

Al-Kharga enjoys bright sunshine all year round and temperatures can exceed 40 degrees Celsius in the summer, prompting the start of a project to rely almost entirely on solar energy in the city.

I met Asaad Farah, the principal of Al-Kharga Secondary School for Boys, which was one of the first buildings in the city to adopt solar energy in 2019. Farah says: “We used to pay £2,000 (about US$100) a month to power the school and because of the increased pressure sometimes the electricity went out and we had to either conserve electricity or charge twice a month.

He adds: “Now the school is saving about £80,000 ($3,000) a year that used to be paid for electricity and is now being spent on student activities.” .

Farah says students are the biggest beneficiaries of solar energy as fans are now working in classrooms throughout the school day, especially in the summer. In addition to the teacher’s electronic whiteboard. “We no longer fear power outages or have to rationalize against our will because solar energy has saved a lot.”

Second, reduce pollution

Last year, Al-Kharga opened the first gas station where cars are to be converted to natural gas instead of fossil fuels: According to the plan, around 50 percent of the cars on the streets now run on gas, especially taxis and local buses.

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Mahmoud Atef, taxi driver in the city of Kharga

I met Mahmoud Atef, one of the taxi drivers outside. He tells me that by switching his car to natural gas about 11 months ago, he saved two-thirds of what he previously paid to fill up his car.

“I used to pay 250 Egyptian pounds ($10) a day for gasoline, now I only pay about 70 Egyptian pounds ($3).” Gasoline encouraged many of my colleagues to work as a taxi driver as the profit grew and the Conversion of the car to gasoline is not expensive.

Mahmoud goes on to say that despite the decline in the number of petrol-powered cars, there is one car refueling station in the city, adding that there is a collective demand from taxi drivers to provide a second refueling station in the city.

Natural gas is a derivative of fossil fuels. It’s not 100% green, but it’s up to 20% less polluting than petrol, diesel and diesel. Natural gas produces fewer exhaust emissions than fuel, according to a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report.

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Public transport vehicle station in Kharga city

Third: More green space

Kharga is known as the palm oasis in Egypt where there are around 700,000 fertile palm trees which have made the production of dates the most important in the city.

Mohammed Ragab, director of environmental affairs in New Valley governorate, explains that the per capita green space in Kharga reaches 2,000 square meters compared to the global average, which is between 1 and 2 square meters. While the per capita share in other governorates of Egypt is only 120 square centimeters.

The government official explains that the amount of oxygen produced by the green spaces in Kharga exceeds 111 million liters of oxygen while consuming about 1,850 tons of carbon dioxide, making the city’s air very clean.

Fourth, waste recycling

As you wander the streets of El-Kharga, you won’t notice bags of garbage collected on the ground, a sight you typically find in other Egyptian governorates.

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Neovali waste recycling factory in Kharga

I escorted one of the city’s garbage trucks, which starts work every day at 5 a.m., to transport the garbage to a factory a few kilometers from the residential area.

The factory started operating in Kharga in 2002, and its manager, Mustafa Abbas, tells me that about 50 tons of garbage are brought here every day. “The waste is separated at the factory into three sections: organic waste, which is converted into natural fertilizer, which is taken to nearby farms, or plastic cans and transported to recycling factories, and third, metal cans are taken to workshops for dissolution and reused. “

An achievement for the government or green in nature?

Rajab says the government planned the kharga “well,” which helped it be considered environmentally friendly. “The industrial area was built outside of the apartment blocks, and the green spaces were distributed among the buildings, and the apartment building was restricted from rising above a certain number of floors in order to have a pleasant aesthetic view.”

But Mohamed Younes, an environmental justice researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, believes that Kharga has not faced much of a challenge as it is an example of an inherently green city with available resources and a small population, but the problem lies in the largest and most crowded cities and governorates like Cairo and Alexandria, he said.

Yunus believes the current government’s strategy makes it difficult to replicate the Kharga model in big cities for two reasons: poor planning and concern for the economic return rather than the environmental dimension.

“For example, in Cairo, metro lines have been expanded and fleets of buses and trains have increased in public transport, and this is good for encouraging residents to use them instead of their cars and reducing emissions, but at the same time we widened the roads within the cities and this encouraged cars to walk on them and we also felled trees.”

The environmental researcher adds that the government often has economic, rather than ecological, priorities in its projects: “We are interested in a project like the subway because it generates revenue, but the green spaces are usually free.” The best proof for this, the deduction is a large part of the green space to convert it into service facilities such as restaurants and cafes, and this pattern was followed by most Egyptian governorates.

Yunus’ speech aligns with reports from environmental and human rights groups criticizing what they describe as “semi-systematic” tree felling in several Egyptian cities in recent years, particularly in crowded Cairo neighborhoods, at the expense of infrastructure development and Construction of a new road network in the country.

And the World Health Organization announced in a 2018 report that the city of Cairo has the second-highest air pollution rate among countries in the world. At the time, the organization warned of the health effects of particulate matter in polluted air, as it impairs the work of the lungs and cardiovascular system and can lead to death.

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