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Garbage Collection in Cairo Collapses

Garbage Collection in Cairo Collapses

Garbage Collection in Cairo Collapses

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Cairo's streets are always dirty, but in recent months the usual piles of trash have gotten larger. The government's slaughter of Egypt's pigs, which used to eat organic waste, is part of the problem. Then came a standoff between the government and foreign garbage collection companies. It's been enough to prompt some residents in this densely populated city of some 20 million people to pick up after themselves.

Cairo is crowded, noisy and now smellier. In recent months, trash in both poor and middle class districts has been piling up.

The pileup is partly related to the swine flu. To combat the H1N1 virus, the Egyptian government slaughtered all the country's pigs even though the World Health Organization said the move was misguided.

The organic waste that was once collected by the so called "zabaleen" to feed their stock of pigs is now ending up in the streets. Some residents have resorted to burning it.

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For some, like Dana Moussa, the streets have become too much to bear.

"What was missing was that the civil society wasn't doing anything about it, except staying in their homes, complaining," said Dana Moussa. "And the important thing is to take action. If you want to see change, even with the governor or with the company, the civil society had to have acted."

So she did. She created an event on Facebook called "Clean up Giza," referring to a huge section of greater Cairo extending out to the Pyramids.

It started with a few friends and grew to more than 350 members.

They took to the streets of the middle class neighborhood Mohandeseen and collected the trash themselves.

"We spent about four to five hours," she said. "It was during Ramadan so a lot of the kids there were fasting. It was during the summer so it was pretty hot, but people were going at it. Everyone was super excited."

That event was the seed of a grassroots movement.

About 30 people attended a brainstorming session to discuss planning, legal and other issues involved in cleaning up their districts.

Omar Ghoneim says he decided to participate because the garbage in his neighborhood is suffocating.

"My area is really, really dirty," said Omar Ghoneim. "So I've always said to myself, 'I can't deal with this. I want to clean it up, but I can't do it alone.' My friend Dana started this and I'm supporting her all the way."

After the first clean up event, the Giza governor announced that the feud between the governorate and the Italian garbage contractor was ending and operations would resume shortly.

But for Laila Halely, pig slaughter and contract disagreements are minor issues compared to Cairo's larger problem: litter.

"People just throw it in the street because they have no where else to throw it in," said Laila Halely. "That's one problem. Second problem is that they're not educated to actually throw it somewhere."

One change includes a plan by Moussa's group to distribute 25,000 garbage bins in one neighborhood. Moussa says her group will also hold bi-monthly clean up days to generate more awareness.

"It's getting young people like us to go down and participate and feel good about themselves and the areas in which they live in. And if this model works we hope to continue this in other districts," said Moussa.

Cairo produces 13,000 tons of garbage every day. So the group has a hefty challenge.