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

ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

    £13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

    £18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

    Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

    £20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power