Traffic in Cairo (left) and "no beeping" signs (right).
Anyone who has ever visited Egypt has doubtless noticed that Egyptians have developed a particular national driving style: instead of putting their hands at the 10 and 2 position on the wheel, drivers generally put one hand on the wheel and the other on the horn - the optimal position for continuous beeping. Beeping and other noise pollution has gotten so out of control in Cairo that, according to a 2007 study, living in the center of the city is the same as living inside a factory in terms of noise levels. Says Dr. Mohammed el-Shazly of Cairo University:
The noise in Cairo is exceptional - it cannot be compared to any other Arab city.This dubious achievement, however, could have severe health effects for residents of the growing mega-city. According to scientists, noise pollution can be just as deadly as chronic stress, leading to a slew of health problems including hypertension, hearing loss, heart attacks and general irritability. The noise pollution caused by car horns, loud music, elderly car engines and people shouting on the street is particularly harmful to pregnant women.
According to environmental health expert Nagat Amer of the Egyptian National Research Centre, the cost of noise pollution can be measured in reduced worker productivity and absenteeism, as well as accidents and handicaps.
With current noise laws going completely ignored and no end in sight to the sensory overload that is noise pollution in Cairo, people who can afford to leave the city are escaping to suburban residential compounds. One can only hope that those who are forced to stay know where to buy a good pair of earplugs.