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

The Neighbourhood Environmental Watch

How we can turn a crisis into an opportunity, writes Lorraine Tinsley*

The Problem -- An Environmental Crisis

The accumulation of garbage on the streets of Maadi, together with illegal dumping and burning of garbage in surrounding areas, represents a public health and environmental catastrophe. The current waste collection contract, held by Europa 2000, is utterly insufficient for the needs of Maadi, and environmentally unsustainable. A new and comprehensive waste management system is needed to take its place.

The Opportunity -- A Comprehensive Waste Management System

Maadi has a committed and active body of environmental and civil society organizations working in partnership with schools, the community and the municipality to keep our neighbourhoods clean, but we are fighting a losing battle. In the past, Maadi was served well by the zabbaleen, who collected all our garbage and recycled as much as 80% of our household waste, but they now must pay Europa 2000 for the licence to enter Maadi, and few are willing or able to pay these fees. The Kattameya Recycling Centre, operated by APE (Association for Protection of the Environment) for the Torah zabbaleen, was established as a transfer station to sort and recycle Maadi's garbage, but a government toll booth now charges garbage workers to enter the site with their truckloads of collected waste. As a result, few workers are willing or able to pay the tolls, and the garbage is dumped illegally on roadsides and in canals. All the parts of a comprehensive waste management system are in place, but we are not making full use of them. How can we turn the crisis into an opportunity?

A New Goal -- Zero Waste with No Landfill

We can, and we should, copy successful waste management systems already operating in around Egypt, for example in El Gouna and 6th of October City, which incorporate household waste separation of wet/dry garbage at source, twice daily garbage pick-up, and extensive recycling. But to do so we must commit resources at the municipal level to double the current rate of garbage collection and clean up our roadsides and canals. And we must ensure that all garbage, from here on, is transferred to the Kattameya Recycling Centre. We also need better equipment, training and supervision of workers to prevent dumping and scavenging, and we need to put an end, once and for all, to illegal dumping and burning of garbage. We urgently need to develop new ways of treating hazardous waste, and recovering valuable tree and garden waste for composting.

Establishing New Partnerships

Maadi environmental organizations are poised to work in partnership with all levels of government in an advisory capacity to devise sustainable solutions to environmental problems -- solutions that work. At the local level, we propose a municipal partnership to monitor the implementation of a new and comprehensive waste management system for Maadi. We are ready to serve as a network of neighbourhood monitors in ensuring that proper garbage pick-up and disposal, street cleaning, green area and tree preservation, and building codes are adhered to. We hope that such a "Neighbourhood Environmental Watch" system will serve as a model throughout Egypt.

* The writer is officer at the Maadi Environmental Rangers (MER)

How we can turn a crisis into an opportunity, writes Lorraine Tinsley

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