Ramadan from an eco-perspective

The holy month of Ramadan is an spiritual time for most Egyptians. Given the drastic changes to many Muslims' eating habits during the month, it is imperative to reflect on the ecological drawbacks of these consumption patterns.

Each year, the state must declare an emergency and exceed its normal production rate of staples to sync with the skyrocketing consumption of food. The import of massive amounts of wheat for bread and dried fruits – both constitute an essential part of the Ramadan menu – all add to the already struggling Egyptian balance sheet.

This can be translated into two bills, the first economic and the second environmental. The two are linked due to excessive consumption leading to a massive build-up of waste, burdening the environment and negatively impacting the nation's economy. Although this waste production exists at other times of the year, Ramadan is the peak.

Another negative outcome of Ramadan is traffic congestion, which translates into large amounts of car-generated toxic greenhouse gases. With traffic being stalled almost constantly (except right after iftar, when the city is devoid of cars and pedestrians), often the likelihood of reaching your house after work in under an hour is more a fantasy than a possibility. In addition, people tend to travel extensively to every corner of the country in order to visit family, and traverse Cairo on a daily basis to visit one another.

Not only should we pay attention to the amounts of food consumed during the month, but also to the vast quantities that are discarded, despite the fact that nearby countries are suffering shortages of food and water (a plight with which some Egyptians are familiar). Unfortunately, all this discarded waste is thrown into our partially untreated sewage system and eventually flows into the Nile. 

Also during the month, many stay up deep into the night, therefore consuming energy (gas and electricity) as much as food, depleting fossil fuel resources.

Because of this maximal consumption pattern, food prices become incredibly high. In this period of uncertainty and instability, purchasing a product at an inflated price can only have two consequences: the price of this already expensive product will keep on increasing or it will run out and other customers will be deprived of it.

You are what you eat?

The fact that our bodies are composed of 90 percent water, combined with the interdiction on drinking liquids, can significantly increase some health problems. Smokers who have to refrain the entire day from drawing on a Cleopatra often catch up at night and smoke just as much, although in a very short period of time, on top of an excessively absorbing food.

Ramadan also causes other health problems, as it significantly increases the occurrences of atherosclerosis, diabetes and gastrointestinal tract diseases (GIT). GIT diseases are the most common in Egypt that result directly from food consumption habits, which become uncontrolled during Ramadan. To combat this problem, people resort to medication to decrease cholesterol and sugar levels. The water treatment system is often incapable of separating medications from our sewage before the water reaches the Nile.

Moreover, Ramadan’s stressful schedules make those who observe it more vulnerable to weight gain, due to a lack sports and exercise.

Last but not least, we should not forget the infamous polluter, shisha. Not only does shisha pollute from the smoke exhaled, but the charcoal is carbon-intensive, which is terrible for the environment. Indoor shisha consumption during Ramadan is rampant and results in indoor air contamination.

For those of us who observe Ramadan, it would be wise to restrain ourselves a bit for once and eat, drink, smoke and drive sensibly during the holy month, especially at a time when Egypt deploys such efforts to avoid a major food security problem. It is also important to keep an eye on the month's ecological dimensions.

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