Talks and trash in Cairo

Promising news: Landmark talks in Cairo about the future government of Egypt are held.

Speaking of Cairo I watched a show on The History Channel about its sanitation history: Trashopolis. It has been the largest city in Africa for centuries. The city now houses eighteen million people who produce 25,000 tons of garbage each day. Garbage collection and disposal was, and is, part of the city’s ecosystem, including people and animals. There used to be pigs eating dead animals and food waste. There were dogs. There’s hand garbage collection and a whole recycling industry depending on hand labour. There’s also, since about 2000, a fleet of trash collection trucks. Here’s the teaser from the show:

Cairo’s Zabaleen – the traditional garbage people – collect the city’s trash by hand and haul it home on donkey drawn carts. Vast slums in the heart of the city are filled with mountains of stinking garbage, and in the alleys and roof tops, Zabaleen women and children sort trash for recycling. 300,000 pigs raised by the Zabaleen eat what can’t be re-sold, a practice that began in the days of King Tut.

Following the Romans, a tribe of slave warriors called the Mamelukes defeat the Christian Crusaders. Under Islamic rule, Cairo flourishes with strict laws regulating the disposal of trash, and public sanitation. Napoleon invades, and a large section of Cairo is rebuilt – inspired by the architects and engineers who rescued Paris from its own sewage and trash. Today, Cairo awards sanitation contracts to multinational corporations, and the Zablaeen take to the streets and begin a desperate fight to protect their livelihood.

The Zabaleen, who would be deprived of a livelihood by municipal trash collection, are employed along with the trucks to collect trash. Most of their pigs, who helped to recycle the garbage into meat, were slaughtered during a swine flu scare.

The show mentioned that the birth rate exceeded the death rate for the first time only after sanitary sewers were installed in 1915. (That was true of most cities, which is why going to the city to seek your fortune was so risky. It’s also what kept cities from depopulating.) By 1930 the population exceeded one million.

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