Black cloud blues

As I look out of my window, a dense, soupy fog envelops the city. At least half the people I know are sick with some kind of flu, and since I've moved to Cairo nearly five years ago I've gotten an average of four flus a year. When I leave the city, exposure to clean air gives me a sore throat for a day or so, and when I come back the same thing happens. And I live in a relatively upscale, leafy neighborhood (although close to a major road). They say Cairo traffic cops have the lowest sperm counts in the world because of the lead they inhale, and that the pollution results in a Cairene baby "losing" at least eight points of IQ because of early exposure to heavy metals in the air. Beyond the black cloud that strikes at this time of the year, it's becoming increasingly urgent for to do something about the pollution in Cairo -- it's reaching 19th century London proportions.

"Out of each 10 people you'll meet in Cairo this time of year, six or seven of them will have this sort of flu-like cough," says Dr Ashraf Hatem, professor of chest diseases at Cairo University Hospital, referring to the symptoms so many Cairenes suffer from during the period from late October through November.
"Usually it starts with a soreness or itching in the throat, pains in the eye, itching in the nose, low-grade fever, and sneezing," Hatem explains. "Then there is a cough, which may come in sporadic attacks that worsen in the evening and at dawn, when the pollution is worst. While these symptoms usually indicate a viral infection of the kind which is passed on so easily in heavily-populated areas like Cairo, the condition is increased significantly by air pollution and what we call the 'black cloud'."

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,