Al-Ahram Weekly Online   23 - 29 October 2003
Issue No. 661
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Cairo cleanup conundrums

Two new foreign waste management companies have joined the Cairo cleanup bandwagon. Dena Rashed provides a progress report

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Before the Greater Cairo cleanup project, zabbaleen sorted out the garbage
On Tuesday, the Italian AMA Arab Environment Company (AAEC) became the third waste management firm to join the landmark and controversial Greater Cairo cleanup project. AAEC will be in charge of cleaning up North Cairo's seven districts -- Shobra, Rod Al-Farag, Al-Sahel, Al-Zeitoun, Hadayeq Al-Qobba, Al-Zawya, and Al-Sharabeya -- an area with two million inhabitants that produces 1500 tonnes of garbage daily.

"It's quite a challenge," said AAEC delegate board member Antonio Canalee at a press conference at the Italian Embassy on Sunday. "It is as if we are starting from zero, since 80 per cent of the residents did not dispose of their garbage through the traditional garbage collectors, the zabbaleen. They just threw it in the nearest dump."

AAEC's 15-year contract will earn the company LE52 million per year for its services, which include waste collection from houses, cleaning and washing streets, collection and proper disposal of medical waste, management of the compost factory, and establishment of a sanitary landfill. Start date for the service in most north Cairo districts is expected by 1 December.

Another Italian company, International Environment Services (IES), should have its operation running officially throughout north Giza by 1 November. Thus far, IES seems to have managed to avoid some of the problems that have plagued the scheme in other Greater Cairo districts. According to a source at the Giza Cleanliness and Beautification Authority (GCBA), the watchdog agency that monitors the two companies working in Giza, "IES has been strictly adhering to its schedule and so far we have not received any complaints from residents regarding its work. If people pay the bill, they are obviously satisfied with the service, and that has been the case so far in north Giza," the source said.

That has not been the case by far in other districts where garbage collection has been contracted out to foreign management. According to the same GCBA source, FCC -- the company in charge of cleaning south Giza -- has been facing the agency's wrath for having less than the required number of containers on the street, for inadequate collection in some areas, and for not washing tunnels and bridges as agreed. Despite their May start of operations, the source said, FCC is still not covering all of south Giza's districts at present, "because we cannot allow them to begin in a new district if they are still not working properly in the other districts."

Another sore point is that FCC's contract does not require the company to provide door-to-door garbage collection, which has angered many residents who are not used to having to take their garbage bags out to the new containers in front of their buildings by themselves. The GCBA source said, "IES's contract does stipulate that the company provides door-to-door services, so the governor may try to amend FCC's contract to provide the same service, since it has proven much more efficient."

Of paramount importance to the new foreign waste management dynamic, however, is the waste itself. For the traditional zabbaleen, much of the garbage is recycled in primitive workshops and becomes a source of additional revenue. At present, young zabbaleen can be seen rifling though the large street containers provided by the foreign companies, extracting the garbage they need and taking it to their workshops in their old-fashioned, uncovered, and often donkey-driven carts. "We have not had any trouble with the [foreign] company and we will continue taking the garbage we need from the containers," said Wael Mohamed, as he collected paper from a container.

IES Managing Director Khaled El-Alamy told the Weekly that his company had worked out a deal with the zabbaleen, integrated them into the operation by "hiring them to collect garbage door-to-door. We are also planning to allow them to take 50 per cent of the waste from the landfill if they cooperate in the sorting", El-Alamy said.

AAEC's Canalee said his company had "managed to hire the same zabbaleen contractors, but the waste remains our property as the contract we signed with the governorate stipulates, [and] we are going to bring the waste to the sanitary landfill according to international standards."

Canalee said the company was sensitive to the social aspect of the problem, "but we just don't like the old system, and it is not going to be appreciated by people anymore." At the same time, Canalee said, the company is still exploring other solutions to this problem with the Cairo Cleanliness and Beautification Authority (CCBA).

Amongst the issues that remain of primary concern to residents, meanwhile, is the fee being charged for the new service. Although taxi driver Omar Mahmoud said the nature of his job allowed him to see "how areas like Imbaba have become cleaner since the new private company started working", like most of those interviewed by the Weekly, the electricity bill remained a highly irritating price to pay for the highly necessary clean up.

"Cleanliness is not a bad thing but it is not fair to associate it with the electricity bill," Mahmoud said. The garbage collection fee -- which has become a part of customer's electricity bills -- is based on an elaborate computation that many don't quite understand. Basically, as the consumption of electricity increases, so does the garbage collection fee. "Some businesses, like jewelry shops," said Mahmoud, "do not produce that much garbage but consume a lot of electricity, and yet they will have to pay a higher cleanliness fee."

On the other hand, Mohamed Abdel-Samie', a Bayn Al-Sarayat shop owner, felt that ensuring "a clean environment" should be the sole responsibility of the government. "We already pay for everything now," he said.

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