Tuesday, September 22, 2009

After the Pig Cull

Cairo, or at least part of it, has apparently been having a sanitation crisis owing to disputes between the Giza Cleaning and Beautification Authority and an Italian firm in charge of collecting garbage. My immediate reaction to this was a total lack of comprehension as to why a government would grant a concession to a foreign firm for something as basic as garbage collection. Do people in Italy really have a comparative advantage in that field?

However, the immediate crisis came after the government decided to kill all the pigs:
"The nationwide pig cull upset the equilibrium, says Yasser Sherif, general manager of Environics, an environment consultancy firm. 'The problem is that the zebaleen were collecting the organic material to feed to their pigs as part of an efficient system of recycling garbage. Now that we don't have any pigs, nobody's really sure what to do with all the organic waste.'

"Once the incentive to recycle organic waste was removed, the zebaleen stopped processing it, and the volume of rubbish reaching the curb increased sharply. Some zebaleen sought to recover the losses to their recycling and pig-raising operations by charging households additional fees for collection. To avoid paying, many residents have resorted to dumping their trash illegally.

"The larger volume of garbage has put more pressure on Cairo's waste management firms. Bins must be emptied more frequently and fines are levied whenever municipal officials discover piles of dumped rubbish. The firms are floundering, and citizens complain that the city has become a giant landfill."

Perhaps Cairo city officials need to read up on the Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilization, which had an efficient public waste management infrastructure.

UPDATE: See also Arabist



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