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

Editorial: Minding Mother Earth


A broadening of horizons in waste disposal is now prerequisite. The creation of a sustainable solid waste management system for Egypt is of vital necessity. Policymakers and civil society organisations are currently engaged in brainstorming sessions to identify key green issues ahead of the Copenhagen summit. They are obliged to innovate to stay ahead of the trash game.

The aesthetics of Cairo and other major urban conurbation in the country suffer from accumulated waste that pollute Egypt's water resources and the air of cities such as Cairo. Life-threatening conditions have become increasingly common. Against such a grim backdrop, far- sighted policies have the potential of shielding the population from epidemics and other health hazards. The authorities are obliged to safeguard social interests and in particular public health. The Egyptian authorities attribute many of the social ills and health problems with the inability to contain the solid waste management crisis.

The government has made tentative efforts to utilise opportunities spawned by the waste recycling and management industries. A better partnership between the public and private spheres would significantly assist the development of science and technology in the arena of solid waste management.

Egypt's Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs (MSEA) was set up specifically to deal with concerns such as the country's solid waste management crisis. Hazardous and toxic waste material disposal are problems that threaten to undermine the gains of economic growth and reverse the positive results of residual momentum from economic and political reforms carried out in the past few years. Hygienic equipment, the creation of landfills for waste, the development of garbage recycling factories, are some of the ways in which MSEA deals with the solid waste management crisis.

Moreover, an active body of environmental and civil society solid waste management systems exists in Egypt today. The networks of community and neighbourhood waste management monitors combat the traditional Egyptian tolerance of trash at all levels. Composting plants are springing up in different parts of the country. However, trash clogs the country's irrigation canals and constitutes an eyesore in many impoverished shantytowns around the country. Waste can be categorised into municipal garbage, agricultural, industrial and hazardous. There is also organic waste and synthetic, non-biodegradable waste.

It is in this context that in 1994, the Egyptian government enacted the Environmental Conservation Law. The collection of waste, its disposal and recycling is of critical concern to the urban poor who suffer the worst impact of the crisis. Haphazard dumpsites are common in Cairo's slums. Uncollected waste constitutes a problem in even some of the more privileged districts of the city. The Zabbaleen district in Moqqattam, Cairo, one of the most deprived regions of the country is still reeling from the slaughter of pigs that followed the outbreak of swine flu and the H1N1 virus.

Environmental degradation is a national and global crisis. The indiscriminate dumping of human and animal excreta in drains and even on the streets of Cairo contribute to the spread of epidemics and diseases. Residential, commercial and institutional waste generators cannot cope with the scale of the crisis. The bottom-line is that Egypt is in dire need of a comprehensive waste management system.

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