CAIRO: The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) published a study this week outlining the environmental and economic damage that it alleges the MOPCO-Agrium fertilizer plant in Damietta has caused over the years through its emission of petrochemicals and a list of other violations that residents have been fighting against to no avail.
The plant was built with the backing of government policies that promoted investment-generating projects, “aimed at maximizing profits without abiding by sustainable development principles,” the report said.
The issue has been the subject of debate since 2008, with Damietta residents protesting against petrochemical factories they refer to as “death factories.” Public pressure led to a case against the MOPCO fertilizer plant in the judiciary, its temporary closure, and its relocation.
But not much has changed, and MOPCO’s business has only expanded, according to the EIPR report.
In May 2011, a Facebook page titled, “The people of Damietta are dying slowly. No to the death factory MOPCO/Agrium” was established as a call for authorities to take action against the factory. The page administrators shared initiatives by civil society groups to close down the MOPCO factory, along with statements from ecological and scientific experts.
EIPR’s team made field visits and interviewed all the parties involved, stating in their report that one of the major causes of the problem is the absence of state monitoring and supervision, naming as responsible the local development ministry, the energy authority, the Industrial Development Authority, and the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs.
Among the violations highlighted by the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs in 2011 was the pollution of local water streams from the MOPCO plant’s industrial waste. EIPR’s research found other violations, according to their report, including improper dissipation of chemicals, the expansion of the factory without approval by a local council, a considerable waste of natural resources, and a lack of financial benefits for local residents.
The report also outlined environmental and legal violations including the misuse of natural resources, particularly water, land and energy; and the obtaining of natural gas for one third of its market price with government subsidies, which it said is a considerable waste of resources “while the population is suffering a shortage.”
The EIPR’s report concluded that the MOPCO factory continues to breach the principles of sustainable development as defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987. The commission established three main elements of environmental sustainability, environmental perspective, economic context, and socio-political implications that guarantees “a balanced use of natural resources and a fair distribution of income.”
Ashraf Tawfik, head of MOPCO’s civil engineering department, said in a statement on the company’s Facebook page Wednesday that the company is currently implementing a solution to the issue of water waste and pollution. It has purchased a piece of land specifically for company waste, which is located away from the main waste station of the city, Tawfik said.
The EIPR said it is recommending stricter policies and monitoring by government institutions, along with the inclusion of civil society as part of sustainable development projects, particularly in regards to resources that are in short supply, such as natural gas.
Additional reporting by Moataz el-Sherbini.