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Algeria, like most countries in the world, has not been spared the problem of pollution, which has become both a political and social concern. The situation has been exacerbated by waste and garbage scattered everywhere, in urban and rural areas as well as in industrial facilities, which poses serious environmental and public health risks.
Pollution rates also continue to rise, which can be attributed mainly to toxic gases and smoke from factories, especially chemical ones, as well as CO2 emissions from vehicles. This is in addition to uncontrolled use of fertilizers and pesticides, which has increased air pollution and contamination of food for human consumption.
In this context, French researcher Jacques Moussafir, chairman and director general of the Qatar-based Aria Technology Company for environmental pollution monitoring, said in an interview with el-Massa newspaper on 5 February 2016 that Algeria has one of the highest rates of pollution in the world, which requires intervention by environmental protection authorities to devise mechanisms to minimize gas emissions and to protect cities from the associated dangers.
According to a 2018 study by Harvard University, Algeria is among the countries at highest risk because of their ‘heavy dependence on foods that lose nutrients when the concentration of CO2 in the air increases’.
This was the same conclusion drawn by the World Bank and the Institute of Health Measurements and Evaluation, a research institute concerned with the acceleration of health progress. In a joint 2016 report titled Cost of Air Pollution, the two organizations stressed that Algeria is among the world’s most polluted countries, along with Mexico, China, India and countries in the Middle East. The report also noted that the mortality rate due to pollution was 10 per cent in 2013.
Pollution resulting from accumulated waste is among the most common forms of pollution. Abdulhakim Batash, mayor of Alger Centre, a municipality in Algiers Province, said in an October 2018 interview with al-Nahar TV that waste has become a phenomenon common to all Algerian cities. He affirmed that citizens should assume responsibility for this problem since they are the primary cause of it as a result of random dumping and disregard for waste collection times.
Batash said that Alger Centre had set up a hotline for citizens and allocated trucks and workers to remove private waste (from home renovations, defective electrical appliances etc.). However, these services have not elicited the expected response and dumping continues.
For his part, el-Haj Ghazi, mayor of Baraki, also in Algiers Province, blamed the waste problem on three parties: citizens, the sanitation department and local authorities. He noted that the three should cooperate to eliminate environmental pollution resulting from indiscriminate dumping, which is threatening public health, endangering the environment and harming the beauty and splendour of the capital Algiers.
Water and food pollution
A particular concern is water pollution and contamination of food for human consumption. The cholera outbreak in October 2018 was caused, according to laboratory analyses, by contaminated water in Sidi Kabir in Tipaza state. The Institut Pasteur (the National Institute for Epidemiology in Algiers) warned Algerians against eating fruit and vegetables without washing them well or eating fruit and vegetables watered with dirty water, which could be the source of the outbreak. Water and food are polluted with industrial residues, insecticides used in agriculture and as a result of dirty water being mixed with potable water.
Algeria has long struggled to combat this problem by fining polluters. Several laws have been enacted to protect the environment and natural resources. The first of these laws was the 1983 Law on the Protection of Environment. This was followed by several other laws and executive decrees regulating various environmental aspects and procedures, with fines and other penalties imposed on polluters.
Algeria celebrated World Environment Day on 5 June 2018 under the slogan ‘overcoming plastic pollution’. Fatma Zohra Zerouati, minister of environment and renewable energy, spoke to Algerian Radio Forum on the occasion. She said that Algeria is preparing to enact additional legal and regulatory legislation related to waste recycling and environmental protection to encourage entrepreneurs, particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises, to invest in the recovery and recycling of plastic waste.
She said that Algeria uses about 5.5 billion plastic bags annually and warned that this volume of plastic waste could cause an environmental disaster in many major cities. One of the suggested solutions is to increase recycling of all kinds of waste, an activity that has not been widely practiced despite its significance at the economic, social and environmental levels. To promote recycling, Algeria aims to establish partnerships with foreign companies as well as encourage Algerians to recycle by providing them with the necessary training and facilities. For example, in July 2017, the National Agency for Waste, as part of an Algerian-Dutch partnership in waste recycling and in cooperation with the Algerian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, provided training to government departments and investors interested in recycling as a business.
Some of the activities organized by the Ministry of Environment and Renewable Energy include the launch of national awareness campaigns to promote the cleanliness of neighbourhoods. These campaigns were supervised by the minister of environment and renewable energy in person on 30 October 2018, when the campaigns were launched with the participation of all the relevant departments as well as civil society organizations and associations.
According to a report carried by Algeria 3 TV, the minister said that an environmental culture should be established among citizens who should assume the most important role to reduce the quantities of waste. The minister stressed that the process of eliminating waste in cities should be the outcome of participation and collaboration among local authorities and all segments of civil society.
One of the mechanisms that aims to raise awareness is environmental education, mainly through cooperation between the National Education and Environment Ministries. This has culminated in the establishment of environmental clubs, the first 21 of which were inaugurated in schools in Alger Centre on 5 February 2019, with other municipalities expected to follow.
Another important project that aims to protect the environment and maintain a high level of cleanliness is in the el-Harrach Valley, from where polluted water flows toward the sea in Algiers. According to a report by el-Massa published on 23 September 2018, the process of cleaning and widening the valley should be completed by the summer of 2019. The project will create 500 hectares of recreational space, including playgrounds and bicycle lanes, as well as rehabilitating an area that poses a serious threat to the capital.
Despite the numerous environment-related laws and national plans that have been passed to preserve and protect the environment, especially in major cities, pollution remains a major concern (50 per cent of the cases of bronchitis, asthma, lung cancer and others are caused by environmental pollution). This situation is burdening the public treasury, which allocates hundreds of billions of dinars annually to treat these diseases and their economic and social side-effects.