Cairo Slum Sparks Recycle Success

Although the poverty in Manskiyet Nasser is overwhelming, the people who live there are proud of how they make their living -- and they've gained international attention for their efforts Photos by Davar Ardalan, Ned Wharton and Liane Hansen.From NPR Weekend Edition Sunday, April 27, 2008 by Liane Hansen Audio for this story will be available at approx. 12:00 p.m. ET click to read more.     In Cairo Slum, the Poor Spark Environmental Change A local school funded by Procter & Gamble teaches the urban poor how to recycle plastics.      Thomas Taha Rassam Culhane is the founder of Solar Cities, an organization that is installing solar hot-water heaters on the rooftops of Coptic Christian and Muslim communities in Cairo’s slums.
In Cairo, the heart of the city’s upscale area is known as Zamalek, a lush island neighborhood in the Nile that thrives with tourists and commerce. Only a short car ride away lies a sprawling slum where impoverished residents have learned to make a living off the trash from Zamalek and other parts of the Egyptian city.     Manshiyet Nasser, with its narrow dirt streets and precariously built houses, is home to tens of thousands of people. They are the Zabaleen, which in Arabic means “garbage collectors,” and they have gathered and recycled Cairo’s garbage by hand for decades.     While their means of survival may seem lowly, a closer look at Thomas Taha Rassam Culhane is the founder of Solar Cities, an organization that is installing solar hot-water heaters on the rooftops of Coptic Christian and Muslim communities in Cairo's slums.this primarily Coptic Christian community reveals that something greater is going on. Here — in the most unlikely of places — the urban poor and some innovative young environmentalists are bringing about environmental change in an age of global warming.     ‘Living in the Worst of It’     The Zabaleen, like people living in poor countries around the world, are on the front lines of climate change. The United Nations reported last year that greenhouse gas emissions will have disproportionately negative effects on the planet’s most impoverished nations — and it cited Egypt as an example.     For the people in Manshiyet Nasser, environmental degradation is already a reality, says Thomas Taha Rassam Culhane. He is the founder of Solar Cities, a nongovernmental organization that is installing environment-friendly solar hot-water heaters on the rooftops of Coptic Christian and Muslim communities in Cairo’s slums.     “They’re already living in the worst of it. They don’t want to see it getting any worse,” he says.     Culhane, who is studying for his doctorate in urban planning at UCLA, says poor people like the Zabaleen don’t leave a large carbon footprint because their individual energy use is low. But he says their sheer numbers create a problem for the economy because the power they do use is subsidized by the government.     International Attention     The poor don’t usually snap to mind when it comes to practicing conservation, Culhane says. But the Zabaleen are doing just that.     Using small vehicles and donkey carts, they haul massive bundles of trash from Cairo — and about 80 percent of the garbage they bring into the community is recycled by hand. Children as young as three sit with their mothers and grandmothers and sort through broken glass, scraps of metal, aluminum cans, dirty diapers and rotted food.     “I’m working all the time,” says one woman sorting through piles of refuse. “My hands get dirty, there’s no water. The price of food is too high. The gas has gone up to seven pounds a bottle, so it’s expensive to heat.     “Everything is so expensive, and I have to live like this?” she says.     A few years ago, Culhane says, the Egyptian government decided to privatize the country’s waste-management system, threatening the Zabaleen way of life. But foreign companies hired to do the job found that their garbage trucks couldn’t navigate Cairo’s narrow streets the way the donkeys could. Today, the slum’s residents still collect much of the city’s trash.     The Zabaleen’s efforts have attracted attention from the international community. Several years ago, UNESCO and Procter & Gamble began investing in an informal recycling school — officially called the Mokattam Non-Formal Education Project.     Culhane says counterfeiters used to sift through garbage, take Procter & Gamble shampoo bottles, fill them with cheaper products and resell them. To get the bottles off the streets, the Cincinnati-based company agreed to fund the school and help the community learn how to recycle plastic.      Today, the school is colorfully painted with P&G shampoo bottles, and serves as a center where young people can learn about the business and economics of recycling. Students are trained to use Excel spreadsheets, and they learn how to shred plastic in machines, wash and dry it using solar energy, bag it and send it out to be melted down for reuse.


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One Response to “Cairo Slum Sparks Recycle Success”

  1. links for 2009-05-07 « Cairene’s Nilometer Says:

    […] Cairo Slum Sparks Recycle Success « Seventymph (tags: informal slums cairo garbage pollution) […]

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