In Cairo, drinking tap water is considered to be a game with rules similar to Russian roulette — the possibility of dying is high. The concentration of bacteria in the water is astounding and the majority of the population living in Cairo’s slums does not have access to the hot water necessary to cook and bathe.

On average, it takes a mother seven hours to bathe her children. She must retrieve water from a well and carry it in a bucket back to her home before warming it up on the stove before she can give any of her children a bath.

To increase the availability of hot water for people living in Coptic Christian and Muslim communities in Cairo, Solar Cities install environment-friendly solar panels on the rooftops of houses in the city’s poorer neighborhoods.

Solar Cities was started by two science Ph.D. recipients, Dr. TH Culhane and Dr. Sybille Culhane. The pair is currently working on their project, C.3.I.T.I.E.S., which stands for Connecting Community Catalysts Integrating Technologies for Industrial Ecology Solutions.

Dr. TH — Thomas Taha Rassam — Culhane’s project succeeds in generating 200 liters of hot water and 200 liters of cold water for each household every day. More than 30 solar water heaters line housetops in Cairo, providing many families with access to usable and drinkable water.

Situated primarily in the Coptic Christian community of Zabaleen and Darb Al-Ahmar, an Islamic neighborhood, Culhane works not only on providing residents with access to water but also on bringing the two communities closer together.

The idea for Solar Cities came to Culhane after he worked on projects in the Dayak of Boneo and Itza Maya jungle villages in Guatemala, and to gain a better understanding of the struggles of living under these conditions, Culhane and his wife moved into an apartment in Zabaleen.

There, they were able to gather practical knowledge on what issues needed to be resolved, namely finding an environmentally friendly way of gaining access to clean water.

The duo has since worked on increasing solar energy and clean water in Cairo and spreading innovative ideas throughout the Zabaleen and Darb Al-Ahmar communities.

As two science educators, they work to make their projects fun and interactive for all of their colleagues and the people they assist with the belief that creativity can lead to innovation, which in turn will make the world a more environmentally sustainable place.

Julia Hettiger

Sources: Matador Network, Egypt Independent, National Geographic
Photo: Google Images

New Wheels in Cairo: The Benefits of Egypt's Scrapping and Recycling
At 7 a.m. every Friday and Saturday, members of the Cairo Runners Club wake up and prepare to hit the soon-to-be crowded streets of Egypt’s capital. Yet these intrepid urban runners are not trying to exercise before work—the weekend actually has already begun (an Egyptian weekend lasts from Friday to Saturday).

Their early waking is rather a matter of health and safety than of discipline. By rising with the sun, they can avoid the noxious air pollution and congested streets that perpetually plague Egypt’s capital.

In fact, according to environmental data from the World Health Organization (WHO), Cairo is more polluted than even Beijing, Bangkok and Mexico City. It has a level of fine particulate that is seven times the WHO standards. These extreme levels of pollution often can lead to heart disease and cancer.

In order to curb air pollution, the Egyptian government has turned to a variety of strategies, including banning the burning of waste and spending more on public transportation. One program that is showing promising results is an initiative supported by the World Bank, which aims to replace old and inefficient mass-transit vehicles in the city.

The program, named Egypt Vehicle Scrapping and Recycling Program, provides cash incentives of up to 5,000 Egyptian Pounds, roughly 640 U.S. dollars, to taxi owners to relinquish and recycle their aging vehicles.

The Egypt recycling program also uses operating licenses to leverage compliance. Mass transit vehicles older than 20 years can no longer receive new operating licenses. Before the program, the age of the average taxi in Cairo was a whopping 32 years. Vehicles this old suffer from poor safety ratings, bad reliability and lack the catalytic converters that filter out pollutants from an engine’s exhaust.

Although the program is reinvigorating the transit fleet in Cairo, its effectiveness does not necessarily extend beyond the metropolitan area. In fact, since the program does not prescribe the method for disposing of these aging vehicles, owners can sell parts to private parties where the law is not in effect.

The Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency also outlined a variety of challenges this program must face in order to succeed. First of all the program requires the complete motivation and organization of the vehicle owners, traffic department and the Ministry of the Interior.

The first project of its kind worldwide, the program also was entering uncharted waters and therefore only a small number could provide the required services. The complexities of Egyptian bureaucracy were also noted as hindrances to the program and would require attentiveness in order to coordinate affairs.

Nonetheless, since the program has been initiated in 2010, the World Bank has reported noticeable improvements. It estimates that during 2013 and in 2014, the program prevented over 130,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. The program also has exchanged an impressive total of 40,689 old taxis with new taxis in Cairo alone.

Many of the old taxis were in excess of 50 years old, well above the already high average of 32 years. As Cairo replaces more of its aging taxis it can expect cleaner skies and perhaps even more runners.

Andrew Logan

Sources: The World Bank 1, The World Bank 2, United Nations Environment Program, Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, USA Today
Photo: Flickr

In Egypt, a poor country where 25.2 percent live below the poverty line, Egyptian citizens unable to pay private healthcare fees have, for a long time, suffered in silence from hospital negligence produced by the country’s crumbling public healthcare system.

In recent weeks, however, Egypt’s deteriorating public healthcare facilities have gained attention in mainstream Egyptian society, thanks to social media sites that have served to shed light on the issue. For instance, one Facebook page, translated from Arabic as “so that he will not be surprised when he visits,” has accumulated thousands of followers since it was created on June 6, 2015, thanks to the involvement of hospital staff. The staff has uploaded pictures detailing gruesome hospital conditions, such as pictures of snakes and owls inhabiting the Mattay Central Hospital in the district of El Mania.

The spotlight shed on Egypt’s crumbling healthcare system comes following Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb’s June 6, 2015 visit to the National Heart Institute and Theodor Bilharz Research Institute, both located in Giza.

According to officials, during Mehleb’s visit, the Prime Minister witnessed overcrowded outpatient clinics, inexperienced hospital staff attending to patients and stray cats wandering through hospital corridors. Greatly disturbed by these conditions, Mehleb responded by firing high-ranking hospital staff as well as relocating some hospital employees from their posts in Cairo-based hospitals to hospitals in Upper Egypt.

Mehleb’s response to the situation has disturbed some citizens and hospital employees who argue that he has served to alleviate symptoms of Egypt’s failed medical system, rather than produce a cure for it. Ihab Taher, secretary-general of the Doctors Syndicate of Egypt, has argued that the relocation of certain hospital staff has been no more than a false solution, intended to deceive the Egyptian people by creating the illusion that hospital conditions in Cairo have been improved.

Indeed, such a ‘simple fix’ fails to grasp at the many root causes underlying Egypt’s failed healthcare system. Nursing staff in Egypt, for instance, are paid extremely poorly, receiving a salary of 80 Egyptian pounds (US$10) per month, while managerial corruption has become a widespread practice in Egyptian hospitals. Societal norms also play a part, as nurses, who tend to come from poor backgrounds and often enter nursing school immediately after finishing middle school, are often degraded and treated like maids in wider Egyptian society. As a result, many of Egypt’s educated nurses leave the country for opportunities to work abroad or in the Gulf nations in which they receive higher wages.

While the road to recovery for Egypt’s public healthcare system will be long and include many hurdles, the recent wave of interest sparked by Mehleb’s visit and subsequent social media campaigns has already produced encouraging signs. Just days after the Prime Minister’s visit, for example, General Secretary of Egypt’s Doctors Syndicate Mona Mina called for comprehensive legislative reform, which included raising the percent of Egypt’s budget allocated to healthcare from 3 to 15 percent.

The utilization of social media in order to create awareness and mobilize healthcare reform has also sparked offshoot social movements. Facebook pages created in recent weeks to illuminate the public to deteriorating conditions in other sectors, such as education, agriculture, sanitation and electricity, is just one example.

Most importantly, the wave of media attention placed on Egypt’s public healthcare sector has helped to lift spirits across the country: it has served to erase years of silent suffering by giving millions of Egyptian citizens the gift of voice.

– Ana Powell

Sources: Al-Monitor, The Cairo Post, World Bank
Photo: The Cairo Post

Cairo Slums

The population in Egypt is 96 million people. Currently in Egypt,there are 26.2 million people that are unemployed. Between 20 and 30 percent of people in Egypt live in poverty. The government and the World Bank suspect that the amount of poverty is grossly underestimated. The rate of urbanization has increased from 50 million, and it estimated to grow to 57 million by the year 2025. Cairo is an urban area that is expanding.

There are three major catalysts for poverty rates to be increasing in urban areas. The government does not have a standard definition of urban areas that is restrictive. In the absence of restrictiveness, boundary expansion of areas is not taken into account. Population evaluation methods are not able to be taken in order to have a needs assessment. This further translates into miscalculation of slum dwelling research on imperative items such as the cost of food, and public services to allot for proper government assistance.

Education is poor in slums in Cairo and food is scarce. Poverty restricts dietary supplements. Carbohydrates and grains are the most common types of food eaten. Vegetables, fruits and protein are hard to come by due to the price and lack of resources for the unemployed. Due to the scarcity of food that is available, children commonly suffer from iron deficiency.

Research indicates that the rate of malnutrition among children in Cairo is high. Sixteen percent of the children are underweight. A lack of basic health care services contribute to the poor health of the residents. It is estimated that 40 percent of Egyptians live on two dollars a day or less. Due to unemployment is rife among the young, forcing many to put off marriage and children until well into their 30s.

Controversy exists regarding the poverty alleviation methods that the government is taking in Egypt. Changes have been suggested to improve the poverty by way of comprehensive studies performed in Cairo. These efforts would increase the definition of poverty beyond income and introduce dimensions of well-being as additional indicators. The additional indicators would include, housing conditions, access to services and the quality of employment. These changes would allow proper assessments to be made.

Underestimating the rapid increase of poverty in urban areas is problematic because it does not allow for proper assessment of the populations needs. The value of poverty lines needs to be increased to determine the true rates of poverty in Cairo. In doing so, the government can make appropriate allowances and funding for an increase of access to nutritious food, quality of housing conditions including water, sanitation and electricity, education and health care.

Erika Wright

Sources: Al Arabiya News, Connected in Cairo, Environment and Urbanization, IRIN, Encyclopedia of the Nations
Photo: Flickr

Egypt PovertyDespite protests against inhumane living conditions, extreme poverty, government corruption and leadership, poverty in Alexandria, Egypt is still rising.

Overcrowded housing, bias urban development and limited access to food, water, quality health and education are among the root causes of poverty in Alexandria.

Although poverty rates in large urban cities such as Alexandria and Cairo remain high, it does not compare to the percentage of impoverished people in the rural areas of Egypt, also known as “upper Egypt,” and Egypt as a whole. In recent years, poverty rates in Alexandria have increased by one percent and is currently still rising.

According to the World Fact Book, Alexandria’s total population is approximately 4.4 million compared to Egypt’s total population of 86.9 million. Overall, 25 percent of Egypt’s population is in poverty, compared to 15.3 percent of the urban population of Egypt who live in poverty.

As one of the largest cities in Egypt, second to only Cairo, Alexandria’s urban development has caused an inequality of wealth distribution—the more money spent on development in urban cities, the less money spent on rural Egypt.

Essentially, Egypt’s developmental policies are focused in urban areas causing bias that has prompted a high rate of poverty in upper Egypt.

The agriculture sector represents a large percentage of Egypt’s population. These rural areas are home to 40 percent of the country’s population and about 70 percent of the country’s impoverished people. Focusing development in cities like Alexandria have allowed room for neglect in rural parts of Egypt where poverty remains one of the highest compared to other areas in Egypt.

The uneven distribution of development have caused people from rural parts of Egypt to migrate to urban areas such as Alexandria and Cairo. However, the migration only fuels the cycle of poverty and state of underdevelopment in rural areas. Instead of targeting Egypt’s root of poverty in rural areas, the efforts are being focused on urban development.

The inability to reduce poverty in Egypt is blamed on urban development.

A large difference between poverty in Alexandria and rural areas in upper Egypt is the public infrastructure such as electricity, education, health and water. Explaining poverty rates in Egypt is closely tied to the urban development in the metropolitan areas of Egypt, where a large percentage of Egypt’s manufacturing, trading and major constructions is concentrated.

Aside from urban development, education also impacts high poverty rates. There’s a known link between lack of education and poverty—the less education accessed, the higher the rate of poverty.

According to the World Bank, about 46 percent of Egypt’s poor is illiterate and 40 percent have a basic education, while the remaining population have advanced degrees. Fighting poverty in Egypt is not only about development in rural parts of Egypt, but also about education.

Ultimately, focusing efforts on improving education in Alexandria and redistributing development across Egypt can aid in the fight against poverty.

Nada Sewidan

Sources: CIA World Factbook, Egypt Independent, Save the Children, World Bank

Photo: Flickr

A "CHANGE" for Reproductive RightsThe Center for Health and Gender Equality (CHANGE) is making a difference in worldwide reproductive rights.

CHANGE is a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization that originated in 1994 in direct response to the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, a meeting that produced a human rights framework for development assistance. In 2001, CHANGE became an independent NGO and its policy work expanded to gender integration, gender-based violence, and female condom programming, amongst other initiatives.

Today, the organization aims to ensure that U.S. foreign policies and programs promote female sexual and reproductive health to a human rights standard around the world. CHANGE hopes to remove the ideology-based and counterproductive restrictions in U.S. policy to create a brighter future for women everywhere.

To accomplish its goals, CHANGE works with policymakers in Washington, D.C. The organization believes that there is no better way to get direct influence in shaping U.S. foreign policy than to take action where policies originate.

From the start, CHANGE realized that it could not receive funding from the organization it was built to oversee, and thus it refuses to accept funding from the U.S. government, instead of relying on private foundations and individuals.

Aligning U.S. policies to match a comprehensive, human-rights-based framework for sexual and reproductive health programs is an important step for encouraging other countries around the world to accept a worldwide standard for reproductive health and gender equality. Developing countries look towards the United States as a marker against which to compare their own reproductive health care reforms.

In acknowledging the UN’s goal to achieve universal reproductive health care access by 2015, CHANGE has set its own goal for the U.S.: to raise its annual support to at least $1 billion. Through its efforts and the help of its many volunteers and partnership with U.S. policymakers, CHANGE hopes to construct a world in which sexual and reproductive health care is universally accessible and available.

– Alexandra Bruschi

Sources: Gender Health, National Council of Women’s Organizations
Photo: Flickr

World Food Programme Helps Syrian Refugees

On average, the World Food Programme (WFP) feeds more than 90 million people in more than 70 countries yearly. In 2013, the WFP has focused its giving on refugees from the Syrian conflict that have been displaced by the fighting. The WFP has helped 3,000 people in February alone and plans on helping an additional 4,000 by the end of the month.

In order to receive the electronic vouchers which can be redeemed for food at supermarkets, the refugees must register with the UN Refugee agency (UNHCR).  More than 90,000 Syrians have been displaced by the conflict, yet only 15,000 have registered with the UNHCR.

The WFP has launched this campaign at the request of the Egyptian government and is focusing on only the most impoverished of the refugees who have drained their savings.

“WFP plans to provide assistance to as many as 30,000 Syrians in Egypt by June 2013,” said WFP’s Country Director and Representative in Egypt, GianPietro Bordignon. They work closely with the beneficiaries while implementing the program.  Egyptians have been  helping WFP by offering their homes “to be used for voucher distributions” and their voluntary contributions have impressed the WFP immensely.

– Pete Grapentien

Source: World Food Programme
Photo: NYTimes