The noise in Cairo

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Noise pollution is especially bothersome in highly populated cities. The Egyptian capital Cairo is one of them. There are around 20 million people in the greater Cairo area, but for Cairenes, their city just wouldn't be the same without all that commotion, as Daniel Estrin reports.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. You probably didn't see this at your local hallmark store, but today is international noise awareness day. In fact, this week is noise action week. Nowhere is action on noise needed more than in big cities. Cairo, for example, is very big and very noisy. But reporter Daniel Estrin says at least some of the city's 12 million residents don't see to mind a bit.

DANIEL ESTRIN: They call Cairo the city of a thousand minarets. Which means that wherever you are in the city, chances are you'll be close to a minaret when it's loudspeakers blast the call to prayer. Before I give you a taste of what that can sound like, you might want to turn down your radio a bit. Add to that 24 hour traffic and Cairo drivers who are in love with their car horns. Everyone else is beeping why did you beep? Why did you have to add your beep?

ROLAND MANADILY: To go on with the crowd.

ESTRIN: That's Cairo resident Roland Manadily behind the wheel.

MANADILY: It adds to the noise.

ESTRIN: Some Egyptian scientists make a different point. A few years ago researchers measured Cairo's noise levels and came up with alarming results. A bearable noise level, according to the EPA is 55 decibels. But in Cairo, the average noise level from seven in the morning until ten at night, reaches 90 decibels. And to understand what 90 decibels of noise sounds like, imagine standing 15 feet away from a freight train, or spending all day inside a factory. That's part of the problem, many people in Cairo do live next to factories. Industrial workshops and residential buildings are often located one next to the other like this metal smith who works on a mostly residential side street. His band saw lets off red sparks that fly across the street as kids with backpacks walk home from school. But many seem to have made peace with the soundtrack that accompanies life in the city. Accountant Muataz Abd-i-Salam was walking his six-year-old son, Omar, back from school, when I saw them enter their apartment building right next door to the metal smith. I approached them for an interview. I'm doing a story about noise in Cairo.

MUATAZ ABD-I-SALAM: Excuse me I don't listen because it's very noisy outside.

ESTRIN: But it doesn't bother you? It doesn't disturb you?

ABD-I-SALAM: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. No no.

ESTRIN: He suggested I check out other parts of Cairo.

ABD-I-SALAM: Downtown is a quiet, very quiet.

ESTRIN: Downtown is very quiet?

ABD-I-SALAM: Yes of course, that's all.

ESTRIN: Well, here is Ramses Square in downtown Cairo and sorry MR. Abd-i-Salam, but I must disagree. Cairo's leaders haven't remained silent about the city's cacophony. Egypt's Environmental Affairs Ministry set up a noise pollution unit. And a few years ago, the government announced its intention to replace all those individual calls to prayer with one synchronized voice broadcast on the radio. That hasn't happened yet, but many Cairenes don't seem willing to part with their city's unique sound print. Businessman Ashraf Ismail stepped into his office building just off Ramses Square and waxed poetic. As he put it, "The noise of Cairo is Cairo itself." For The World, I'm Daniel Estrin, Cairo.