A Timeline of Waste in Cairo
Despite the fact that MSW is a responsibility of governments and municipalities, the earliest form of waste management system that has ever been known in Cairo was established by people not by authorities, a collaboration that dates back to the beginning of the last century. The first societal authority in this parallel government was a group of migrants from the Dakhla oasis in the western Egyptian desert. They were called Wahiya which means ‘oasis people’. They settled in Cairo and embarked themselves on managing the city’s waste as a living . (Neamatalla, 1998) The Wahiya were picky collectors, interested in the economic value of their collected refuse. That made them more focused on recyclable material like paper and plastics, but not in organic household byproducts (Leven, 2005). As a result, they only collected portions of the garbage that was available .They were joined in the 40s by another group of Coptic migrants from southern Egypt, later to be named ‘ Zabbaleen’ or garbage collectors. This group used to work in agriculture and as pig breeders in the rural south (Stix, 2012).Confronted by crop failure, diminishing economic resources , combined with agrarian reforms by Pres. Gamal Abdel Nasser, they were forced to move towards he northern urban cities .At first they settled in tin squatters houses in Imbaba, very near to the urban core of Cairo at that time. (Didero, 2012) After being evicted from Imbaba, they were relocated to Muqattam in 1970. In 1975, when construction work on a Coptic Church began in Muqattam, people started feeling more secure and thus more inclined to build permanent stone homes instead of tin shacks. (Neamatalla, 1998)
Together, these 2 symbiotic groups organized themselves into a highly functional system involving distinctive roles in the waste management process. The Wahiya acted as waste brokers, controlling the rights to the domestic waste of Cairo, while the Zabbaleen rented collection routes from them and were thus provided with access to waste as a resource. (El-Hakim & Haynes, 1979)They spontaneously became involved into an integrated waste business and initiated micro enterprises composed of entire families operating on the collection, sorting, and recycling of garbage. As the city expanded in both size and population, so did the empire of garbage collectors.
By the 80s the Zabbaleen had developed a highly efficient, people based waste management system and gained international recognition for having the highest recycling rates in the world. They even surpassed Seattle’s recycling rate of 37 percent which was the highest in the US and most of Europe at that time. (Leven, 2006) .This period marks 2 very important transformations in the life of the Zabbaleen communities. The first was that they were finally acknowledged and appreciated on an international level. A global reputation was growing serviced by a phenomenal amount of research about literally all aspects of the...