En Egypte, des cimenteries se tournent vers le charbon comme combustible en raison des pénuries de gaz naturel (malgré son prix plus avantageux). Le ministre de l’Environnement cherche en vain à s’y opposer.
Egypt’s rapidly growing population and increasing dependence on natural gas due to artificially low subsidised prices have led to demand outstripping supply in recent years.
The situation is become more acute because of political tensions between Qatar and Egypt since the overthrow of President Mohamed Mursi last year.
Diesel is a costly alternative to gas that can be used by heavy industry and for power generation but it is more expensive.
Environmental activists say international firms operating cement factories in Egypt are taking advantage of the interim government’s panic over the short-term energy crisis, along with a lack of awareness among citizens, to push for coal, a fuel being phased out in most developed countries.
Although the cement industry was once wholly state-owned, a privatisation effort under President Hosni Mubarak, toppled in a 2011 uprising, saw an end to public ownership at all but two factories, according to activists.
But the private factories are still supplied by the government with artificially cheap fuel, thanks to a decades-old subsidies programme that drains Egypt’s hard currency reserves and accounts for at least a fifth of government spending.
Iskander said the practice of giving deeply discounted fuel to firms at the state’s expense “absolutely” needs to be revisited: “It’s a remnant from the Mubarak days.”
Iskander said that there is only one short-term measure that could ease pressure of inevitable shortages this summer: “every citizen turning off one light bulb.”
The coal issue raises questions about development strategies in Egypt, where a quarter of citizens live below the poverty line of $1.65 a day, she said.
“Nobody is taking to the streets over the environment, yet,” she said. “They have done so over bread and corruption.”