Al-Ahram Weekly Online   22 - 28 October 2009
Issue No. 969
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Editorial: Commitment

By Seheir Kansouh-Habib

Selecting solid waste management as a central topic to be covered by this issue of Beyond was prompted by our hope to turn the current garbage crisis that hit Cairo like a hurricane into an opportunity for change.

It has been ages since Cairo has been in need of a face lift and Cairenes a wakeup call. For a long time, Cairo residents and visitors have had reasons to complain from the state of its streets, its unfriendly sidewalks, and the slack attitude of pedestrians or motor riders.

We were obviously in need of enduring a full crisis before we came to realize that the solid waste management system collapsed because it was initially malfunctioning. We also came to realize that waste management - as is said in Arabic - "ma le-housh sahheb" , or it is no man's land. Trying to understand who is responsible for what is like trying to fill a crossword puzzle. There is no single authority that can be held fully responsible and accountable for the whole process of managing garbage from the moment it is dropped till it reaches its final and safe/unsafe destination. There are too many actors, too much conflicting interests and very little coordination .

Until further notice, other than the eternal population growth that is always blamed for all problems facing Egypt, it is now contended that the garbage crisis was generated by the swine flu panic and the subsequent culling of the swine, combined with the short-sighted and disadvantageous contracts that the Government concluded with foreign companies to manage solid waste. Whatever the cause behind the crisis, there is no more doubt that the solid waste management system requires a complete overhaul.

The system's overhaul is to be founded on best practices that should take into account specific needs and conditions of the various communities and localities; it is to stand on scientifically-based and well informed decisions; it needs clear roles definition with accountability; realistic targets' setting and plans of action; adequate budgeting and financing mechanisms. Close monitoring of implementation and evaluation of results to prevent falling into another crisis is a must. This matter is urgent as the Egyptian population will be otherwise facing major problems with high health and well- being risks. Particularly the causes behind the dreadful living conditions of the "Zabbaleen"- this marginalized "rubbish people" - have to be eliminated.

This issue of Beyond is rich with ideas, solutions and alternatives provided by experts and people who care and who know. We are exposing their views as we believe that they offer useful information and food for thoughts that can enrich the ongoing technical, policy and public debates on the topic in all its complexity.

Quoting Will Foster:

"Quality is never an accident..It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, and skillful execution. It represents the wise choice of many alternatives".

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