Case Study: Environmental Justice Map - Wadi Al-Qamar

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Sunday, 9 July, 2017

Summary

Residents of Wadi Al-Qamar area in Alexandria suffer from environmental pollution, and deterioration of health because of Alexandria Portland cement factory located next to their homes. The pollution from the factory violates their right to health, safety and life. Residents are affected by kiln emissions, dust from grinding and packaging, etc. They are also affected by vibrations that have led to the cracking of some homes and the constant noise of machinery. The recent shift of the plant from the use of natural gas to coal has compounded the suffering of the population.

For many years, the residents practiced many forms of peaceful protests against the factory. They wrote petitions, filed complaints, held negotiations with factory officials, talked about their cause in the media, used social media, produced documentary films, and even conducted researches and proposed alternatives. They also resorted to elected local and national councils, filed lawsuits in national courts, and filed a complaint against the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which finances the company through the Office of Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO) office.

The formation of the Popular Coordinating Committee for the Defense of the People of Wadi Al-Qamar Area -supported by heads of families in the predominantly tribal region- has helped strengthen the role of natural leaders, motivate resistance, and activate networking with parties, civil society organizations, parliamentarians and others. Members of the committee note that in the face of the rising resistance, the company instigated thugs, fabricated charges and lawsuits cases against them, and also tried to bribe them.


Wadi Al-Qamar


Wadi Al-Qamar area is located west of Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast. The cement plant is located north of the residential area, separating it from the sea. The southern fence of the factory is only about 10 meters from the residential area (the width of the street separating them).


The residents say that the majority of the population in the area belongs to tribes that have settled in this part for long periods, namely Awlad Ali and Juhayna tribes, with a population of about 60,000 citizens. Elderly people lived in the area when it was a place for recreation and healing. They remember that the area was famous for the reflection of lunar rays on the vast barley plantations, which is the reason behind its name. The area has changed over the years, due to its proximity to the port of Alexandria. Factories invaded it, and the main roads penetrated it through which trucks loaded with goods and raw materials pass. However, despite the presence of a number of industries in the region, the location of the cement factory north of the residential area under the blowing wind and being the only factory in the region which emits dust makes it the most dangerous on the residents.


Alexandria Portland Cement Factory - TITAN

The Alexandria Portland Cement Factory dates back to 1948 when it was established by the Egyptian government. The factory was owned by the state until it was privatized in 1999 and bought by Blue Circle Industries Company. In 2002, the four old wet-process production lines were dismantled and a dry-process production line (Fifth kiln) was established. After a series of mergers and acquisitions, Titian Cement Company acquired Alexandria Cement Company in 2008. Currently, Alexandria Development Company Ltd., together with other Titan Group companies, own approximately 88% of plant’s shares. In 2010, an investment agreement with (IFC) worth 80 million Euros was signed, giving the corporation 15% share of the capital. Alexandria planet’s production capacity is about 2 million tons of cement annually.


Resistance

The establishment of a cement factory in the area has not been accepted by the residents since its inception, because it blocked them from the sea and put an end to the purity of the air and the beauty of the view they were used to. But their resistance was sporadic and took the form of petitions and complaints to officials.


According to the residents Residents "The situation was not very bad at first, but after 2002 with the privatization and construction of the new furnace, pollution increased significantly, perhaps because the furnace was shorter and closer to the houses than before, or because the plant's production capacity has increased and the factory's performance itself is bad with many irregularities or all of these together” They said that, the fumes and dust have increased greatly, they and their children were seriously suffering and the treatment bill each family pays or can not pay became a frustrating issue.

As the suffering increased, anger increased and complaining intensified. People often randomly gathered in front of the factory to protest and express their anger and frustration. The company's security prevented them from entering to meet the officials. Some natural leaders emerged in the region, and attempted to lead the negotiations with the company -Blue Circle at that time- but the negotiations failed to reach any consensus. As one of them said “We discovered that the negotiations were aimed at wasting time and convincing us that we had no rights, and that we do not represent the majority of the people. They spoke to us presumptuously”.

In reaction to the failure of negotiations, a group of leaders organized the first public conference in the street, attended by a large number of residents and disseminated by some T. Vchannels. The conference clearly showed that the majority of the population were objecting to the factory and to its performance. After the conference, the State Security summoned some of the leaders and warned them not to move in the street or gather and agitate people, adding that they can peruse their cause but they have to present their demands differently: street events strictly prohibited

In order to adapt to this situation, some of the active residents resorted to the establishment of “the Coordinating Committee for the Defense of the People of Wadi Al-Qamar”. A meeting of senior members and representatives of well known families in the area was held. The meeting issued the founding statement for the committee, stating that the comittee represents the residents and deals with the executive authorities in this capacity. This was around the year 2004.

The committee members began to speak more with the residents and inform them about their cause and what they are doing. They also tried to publicize the issue through communication with the press, television, and especially social media. Over time, the committee expanded its work and started to document the environmental violations of the factory using pictures and submitted complaints to the Ministry of Environment. The committee tried to document the health damage by collecting testimonies and medical prescriptions from patients and pharmacies. It collected complaints and compensation lawsuits filed by some sick citizens against the company, and created a file for the company to monitor its legal status.

The committee set some general rules for its work, including transparency, avoiding secret communicate with the company, avoiding clashing with the police and the officials so as not to raise the fear of the people, neutralizing political tendencies, not to be associated with any party or political group, and networking with all sympathetic civil society organizations, bodies, and individuals from all orientations.

In 2007, one of the members of the committee, who was elected from the area in the local council, managed to raise the issue within the council, and also within the Parliament. The problem of the pollution caused by the factory was presented, and a committee of environmental and health experts was formed. The committee issued its report, which stated that "the emissions from the company caused serious damage to the population and to neighboring companies, their products, and industrial equipment, and that there is a serious risk to the health of citizens”. The report recommended moving the company from its current location to areas far from residential areas, but this recommendation was not implemented.

With the collection of documents and the organized movement, residents discovered a number of the company’s legal violations, the most important of which is related to the license. The residents filed a lawsuit against the company in front of the Administrative Court of Alexandria in 2010, demanding the cancellation of the factory’s license because of its illegality. Although the report of the State Commissioners in the case concluded that the company is operating under a license that is legally invalid and should be canceled, yet the case is still subject to continuous postponement. The citizens assume that the influence of the company is behind this procrastination.

In 2012, some residents filed another lawsuit related to the company taking over 60 meters of the main road in front of the factory and building an iron fence in front of the company's main gate. They demanded the removal of the illegal fence. The ruling was issued in favor of the residents, but the fence has not yet been removed.

The January 2011 revolution resurged people's desire to claim their rights; they resumed moving and demonstrating in the streets and a large demonstration was organized in late 2011. They wanted to raise their demands and to mobilize the media for the cause. Many small protests took place with people raising banners and shouting in front of the company gates But the largest demonstration was organized in December 2012, and was organized by members of the committee .

They said that they had stood from the afternoon until before sunset with banners, and chanting slogans. But with the darkness some thugs sneaked amid them and started riots amongst the demonstrators and set fire in some offices inside the company. They believe that theses thugs were sent by the company. Police intervened and a the demonstration was forcefully dispersed and a number of residents were arrested. The company claimed that the residents committed the sabotage and a number of the leaders and activists were referred to the State Security Court. The case remained many years in process and during these years it was like a sword hanging over the heads of the residents, restricting their actions, until they were all acquitted in December 2016.

In April 2015, with the help of EIPR and other organizations, the citizens submitted a complaint to the Office of Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO) of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), part of the World Bank Group. The Office of the Ombudsman is an accountability mechanism that considers complaints filed by individuals or local communities affected by the negative environmental and social impacts associated with projects financed by IFC. The complaint was accepted, and in September 2015, the Ombudsman office’s Dispute Settlement mission arrived to visit the area and meet with the parties involved in the issue to assess the situation and discuss the possibility of negotiation. The residents agreed to negotiate while the company refused. Accordingly, the complaint was referred to the compliance mechanism in the Office of the Ombudsman, which issued its first report on July 18th, 2016. The report pointed out that there are a number of areas of serious concern in the performance of the plant that require in-depth investigation. Indeed, in January 2017, a mission from the CAO and international experts visited the site, inspected it, and spoke to the parties concerned. The final report is expected to be issued within a few months.

In addition to the case concerning the license which has not yet been settled, and the case concerning the fence, in which a verdict was issued but not implemented, EIPR helped the citizens to file a lawsuit against the prime minister, the company and others regarding the factory’s use of coal in January 2016. The lawsuit came in response to the amendment issued by the prime minister to the executive regulations, allowing coal to be used in residential areas, including Wadi al-Qamar. The case is still under deliberation. The judge requested the formation of a committee of Alexandria University professors to assess the environmental and health impact and to prepare a report for the court next July to use it in issuing the verdict.


The citizens also succeeded, with the help of EIPR, in filing a lawsuit in front of the misdemeanor court against the factory because of its violations of the environmental law and the health damage it causes to them. The lawsuit is still in front of the court.

The residents also contacted the area’s MPs, and EIPR helped them prepare comprehensive files on the subject and presented them to the MPs. An MP from Alexandria presented a request for briefing in the Environment Committee of the Parliament, and a number of MPs visited the area to see the situation on the ground. They asked the factory to improve its performance and to provide better services for area.

Due to the political situation and the tightening of the security grip, mass movement has become more difficult and costly. Media trends have changed and it is difficult to reach the media to express people's complaints. Despite the frustration and fatigue, the citizens are still active on social media, they follow the lawsuits, and submit complaints to the responsible authorities, hoping to achieve environmental justice one day.

This subject has been published via Environmental Justice Atlas