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saving lives

Wadi El Qamar, also known as Moon Valley, is a residential area located in the west of Alexandria, Egypt next to the Portland Cement factory. Just ten meters away from the residential area, the factory processes coal and garbage. It layers the homes of more than 30,000 people with toxic dust, causing tremendous health problems to those who live there.

Kadry with his daughter Shahd.

05 June 2024

A story by Mohamed Mahdy

Moon Dust

Wadi El Qamar, also known as Moon Valley, is a residential area located in the west of Alexandria, Egypt next to the Portland Cement factory. Just ten meters away from the residential area, the factory processes coal and garbage. It layers the homes of more than 30,000 people with toxic dust, causing tremendous health problems to those who live there.

Children from Wadi El Qamar playing football on the main road.

The Moon Valley is home to 60,000 people, and historical documents show that the residential area was founded more than 70 years ago under King Farouk, predating the cement factory. Residents face enormous incidents of asthma, lung cancer, eye, ear, and throat infections, and chest sensitivities. The health problems caused by the factory dust affect working-age men who cannot support their families due to their deteriorating health conditions. Children are debilitated by these diseases, and the elderly are also particularly at risk. 
 
People there are not living as humanity should. Children are born with asthma. Cement, coal, and car exhaust fills their homes. Every five minutes a new layer of dust appears.  

The Fifth Oven, a cement factory, was constructed next to a northern part of the residential area. The factory and the housing are only 10 meters apart and the northwestern wind in this coastal area carries dust, coal and garbage into homes.
A man wipes his eye – most people cover themselves because dust and cement are everywhere in the air.
Left: Children play football in Wadi El Qamar. Right: Youssef is one of the kids who has asthma, he always stays at home because he cannot go out and play like the other kids: "I am always home, I can't play anymore. I want to be one of them."
"When we moved here Amal was the only one who got asthma. She was only 3 years old", - says her father.
Mostafa playing with his 5-year-old daughter Noor. "Since 2008 I started to lose my smelling ability. If I do not see what I eat, I would not know what it is," - he says.
Kadry with his daughter Shahd.
Mostafa is 55 years old, a father of 3 daughters and 1 son. He, his wife, and his children have asthma. Their health conditions deteriorated after their exposure to coal and garbage from the factory.
Amal is 11 years old. She came to this area when she was 3, and just a few months after, she got asthma. She has to use a breathing mask every day.
Left: Omar works in the factory wearing a football t-shirt bearing the company name. Right: Awady was born with asthma, he wishes to be a great football player one day and he fears for his health. "The factory makes us play soccer matches under it's name. How can this be in light of the fact that I cannot properly breathe from my chest or run properly again because of them?" - says Omar.
Abdelrhman, 33: "My chest allergy started taking a toll on me to the point that I had to go to the hospital. I spent it all for my treatment until there was no money left and had to borrow money from others."
Ahmed filed a lawsuit against the factory, and he said it's been 10 years with no sentence. After many heart and chest surgeries, doctors told him he should live 12 hours per day in Wadi El Qamar, and 12 hours outside of it.
The vibrations from the Fifth Oven crack the walls in the houses that surround the factory, so Ola puts a new sticker and new tape for each new crack.
Ola said: "The roof came down, and we almost died. Now I have to go buy a package of the very cement that they are killing us with, in order to repair the damage they caused in the first place."
If they leave the windows open for 10 minutes, 1 centimeter thick dust and coal forms.
"We got used to the sound of machinery in our ears. We hear it anywhere we go. The noise pollution, along with the very high temperatures of the factory that range between 1200-1500 degrees Celsius. If the temperature on an average summer day is 35 degrees, it reaches us here as 55 degrees."
Ahmed, 11 years old: "I always take the role of goalkeeper in football matches because I am unable to exert more effort. I am learning how to play the flute because this is the only thing that doesn't require much movement. I do not love what I am doing, but I want to live like my friends at school."
Shahd playing in her room.
Omar is 26 years old. In the image on the left, he photoshopped his face on the body of a famous actor, and wrote "The super star of generation Omar."
Abdelrhman waiting for his turn to see the doctor.
Left: Abdelrhman is sleeping in the mosque, just as he did four years ago at the onset of his medical problems. Right: It is noticeable that even the animals in the residential area are also affected by the coal and dust.

Mohammed Mahdy has been documenting this project from 2016 to 2020, recording the impacts of this dust on the residents of Moon Valley, and how people are trying to survive. Previous efforts to pressure the cement company had failed, but after Mahdy’s project was exhibited in Cairo, and later featured in the New York Times, national and international attention brought results. The company installed filters to limit their pollution and the health minister promised help with medical costs for the worst affected. 

The story was created and published as part of the Arab Documentary Photography Programme. 

Abdelrhman.