Every day, the people of Al Khosos, in Qalyubiyah province north-west of Cairo, are confronted by heaps of rubbish and noxious odours. The problem, our Observer tells us, is one of waste collection, which has got worse since Egypt culled its pig herd because of concern over the A (H1N1) virus – or swine flu.

On April 29, the Egyptian authorities decided to slaughter 300,000 pigs in an effort to stop the spread of A (H1N1).

Most of them belonged to the Zabaleen – freelance trash collectors and urban pig farmers – in the provinces of Cairo, Giza and Qalyubiyah. These ragpickers, most of whom are Coptic Christians, have been raising pigs and collecting waste since the beginning of the last century.

The Zabaleen’s sorting and recycling of rubbish and waste could reach reprocessing rates as high as 80 percent – about 3,000 tonnes per day in the capital and the greater metropolitan area.

The pigs that fed on the rubbish were key to the Zabaleen system – the pigs ate the organic waste (see our previous article on the subject) – and then the tables were turned when the pigs became ham.

In the streets of Al Khosos

More scenes from Qalyubiyah. Published by 6aprilorg, August 6.

In the centre of Al Khosos

This young man explains that the waste burning on the street had been dumped at a roundabout in Al Khosos, Qalyubiyah.

FRANCE 24 contacted the governor of Qalyubiyah, but we have not had a response. The video was posted on YouTube by TheHopejournal on September 26.

"The pig slaughter severely affected the entire system of waste collection"

Mina Zekry is a blogger and a human rights activist. He explains the link between the slaughter of the pigs and the build-up of waste in certain Egyptian provinces.

The pig slaughter severely affected the entire system of waste collection. This decision, which was taken hastily and arbitrarily, brought about today’s sanitation crisis.

For the last two months, heaps of rubbish have been growing in the provinces of Cairo, Giza and Qalyubiyah, which portends a higher risk of illnesses and epidemics.

The authorities wanted to end the manual system of waste collection and to automate it. They took the approach of privatisation and signed contracts with foreign service providers. Towards the end of the 90s, private companies took over rubbish collection, and that was the beginning of the end for the ragpickers.

But the decision to kill all the pigs – the scavenging waste-collectors’ principal source of revenue – was the final blow to the sector.

The private waste-collection companies have not been able to take over the work that the scavengers did. They don’t have enough qualified workers. What’s more, the ragpickers went from door to door to collect rubbish; people appreciated the service and paid them directly."

Today, people have to pay four to 10 Egyptian pounds (50 euro cents to 1.20 euros) for waste collection. The fee is added to their electric bill – whether or not they are actually receiving the service.

Private initiatives have sprung up here and there to encourage the population to help out with rubbish collection – in other words, going back to a manual system, but without the professionals.