Al-Ahram Weekly Online   17 - 23 September 2009
Issue No. 965
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

A clean break

The streets are getting cleaner in Giza but for how long, asks Dena Rashed

Click to view caption
Heaps of garbage are being collected

Many who grew up in Cairo can doubtless remember the billboards that used to dot the streets proclaiming that "Cairo is a clean city", and Giza the same. However true -- or not -- the message, the boards were spotted easily and residents got used to seeing them. Sadly, in Giza last week, the onetime signs could not have been further from the truth. When the Italian solid waste management company IES, charged with collecting the garbage in northern Giza, stopped collecting the rubbish the results were shocking for many residents.

Rumours that IES workers had gone on strike were denied by the company's general manager, Ahmed Nabil.

"We have continued working with the resources available to us," he said. "But the governorate owes us LE40 million and until we are paid we do not have enough money to clean our designated areas as frequently as is needed."

It took several days of rubbish bags piling in the streets for the press to take notice, a few days more for the governorate to realise the severity of the situation in Giza. The governor intervened and took charge of the problem which would normally have fallen within the purlieu of the Giza Cleaning and Beautification Authority (GCBA). He reached an agreement with IES, and though the root cause of the problem has yet to be tackled rubbish is again being collected.

"We received a downpayment of LE2 million from the governorate, and that cash flow has helped us pay the salaries of our workers and to repair some equipment," says Nabil.

Last Monday, two hours before Iftar, IES workers were driving around the streets of Mohandessin stopping every couple of metres to collect what remained of almost a week's worth of garbage. Their supervisor, who preferred to withhold his name, was nonetheless open about discussing his view.

"We are doing our best to clean every corner," he said, pointing to the three young workers collecting a pile of garbage from behind a car. Though he admitted to feeling frustrated, the supervisor said: "We received a promise from the management, we are doing our job and hope for the best, that the government will give the company the money it owes them and eventually we will get our salaries."

While many citizens felt the adverse effects of the non-collection regimen, a few took matters in their own hands. Last Saturday the governor took to the streets to thank two groups of youngsters -- one encouraged by a Facebook group -- who had launched their own campaigns to clean up the streets of Giza.

While the IES supervisor sees their action as a helpful gesture, he says his workers' job is made more difficult by the careless behaviour of many others. He points to a heap of sand and stones, debris from the refurbishment of an apartment in the wealthy district of Mohandessin, piled high on the pavement, blocking the path of pedestrians.

"Even the wealthiest residents just toss their rubbish into the streets which makes our job far more difficult than it could be," he complains.

"A year ago, the service was much better. In the last week, though, we have seen just how bad it could become," says Mahmoud, who has been trying to dispose of the garbage generated by the florist shop at which he works. Ragab, who works in an adjacent flower shop, says it is hard to single out who is to blame for the current problems.

"The workers are poorly paid, they say the governorate does not pay the company the amount it agreed, and the attitude of the public worsens an already difficult situation."

So are Giza's problems over yet? IES Nabil has no definite answer. All he hopes for is that the governor will remain a party to the deal.

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