In Egypt, swine flu fears buried under rubbish threat

(AFP) -

"Look, that's where the swine flu is going to come from," said a weary Marzouka Beshir, pointing to a pile of rubbish rotting under the blazing sun in Imbaba, a working class neighbourhood in Cairo.

 

In their overcrowded areas, overflowing with litter, many like this 52-year-old Egyptian woman, have trouble coming to grips with the dramatic measures taken by authorities to combat the A(H1N1) flu.

Over 900 cases of swine flu have been reported in Egypt, and two people have died from it.

But in a place where hygiene and basic services such as water and electricity are hardly guaranteed, simple instructions like "wash your hands with soap and water" as advised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and hammered by public television, pose for most a serious challenge.

Egypt, whose 80 million people make it the Arab world's most populous country, is already struggling with the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, and says it is not taking the swine flu lightly.

The outbreak of the disease in other countries this past spring sparked a frenzy of combative measures by the Egyptian government.

Restrictions were placed on pilgrims travelling to and from Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's most important pilgrimage sites; schools and universities were shut down.

And the country's 250,000 pigs were slaughtered in a step that drew heavy criticism.

The government later said that culling the pigs -- an action deemed unnecessary by the World Health Organisation because pigs were not transmitting the disease to humans -- was a public hygiene measure aimed at cleaning up pig breeding in general.

But the pigs were feeding on organic waste. And now they are gone. The rubbish is piling up and the garbage men can't keep up.

The chronic problem of rubbish collection in the megalopolis of 18 million residents started getting worse after the decision.

And while there is no link between the rubbish and swine flu, the accumulation of waste certainly provides fertile ground for other diseases and discredits the government's public health warnings.

"It's a disaster; the pigs were eating the rubbish of all Egypt!," said Eid, 36, a freelance rubbish collector who, like many collectors, also sorted the rubbish for recycling.

-- Let them clean the streets --

Collector Said Mikhail, 74, smoking a shisha (waterpipe) at a local cafe, said "I used to have pigs. My children earned a living; all was going well. Now the pigs are dead and here I am.

"My children continue to pick up rubbish because they have no other means of making money, but the workload has increased and the revenue has gone down," he said.

Egypt produces around 55,000 tonnes of waste every day, including 15,000 tonnes in Cairo alone, official figures say.

In Saft al-Laban, a poor Cairo district, litter is everywhere, near the school, the fruit stalls and the small hospital.

A foul stench from metre-high (three-foot) piles of rubbish hovers over the area where residents can barely contain their fury.

"The smell is killing us," said Hala Shafiq from under her black veil.

"This, this is nothing," she said, shooting a look at the dozens of black plastic bags on the ground where dogs poked around looking for food.

"They talk about swine flu ... let them clean the streets," she said.

"We can't take it anymore," chimed in Mahmud Riad, who owns a nearby restaurant surrounded by debris.

"There are no dumpsters so people throw the rubbish in the street and when the authorities come to pick it up, they leave half of it," he said.

The government agency charged with cleaning up Cairo's twin city of Giza, admits it is swamped.

"We have neither the manpower, nor the equipment to pick up all the rubbish," said one official who asked to remain anonymous, as three street sweepers in green outfits dumped torn rubbish bags onto a truck already overflowing with litter.

"We are looking to recruit sweepers but people are ashamed of collecting rubbish," said the official.

The problem has prompted some to take things into their own hands.

Amina al-Bendari, who teaches history at the American University in Cairo, spent two hours with a few neighbours picking up the rubbish on their street.

"We are still paying the (freelance rubbish collectors), but they don't come every day anymore," she told AFP.

"They killed the pigs. What is the alternative now?"

iba/jaz/al-ns

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

    £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

    Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

    £26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

    Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen