Egypt’s Filthy Canals Are Breeding Disease and Discontent

egypt-cairo-abu-sir-canals-water-rubbish-disease-governmentEgypt’s network of canals are filthy, stagnant and have become dumping sites which breed disease and discontent

Egypt may be synonymous with the majestic Nile but the network of canals that bring water from this important waterway to the surrounding agricultural lands are filthy, rancid and breeding grounds for rats and disease. According to a recent report by Al Jazeera, the Egyptian government is simply not doing enough to provide suitable garbage management and this means local see little alternative to dumping in the stagnant canals. Government mismanagement and corruption has been highlighted by campaigner Sarah Rifaat as one of the major barriers to action on climate issues in a recent interview. This case with the canals shows how such factors play out in real life. 

On the outskirts of Cairo, severe water shortages in the village of Abu Sir are making it hard for farmers to cultivate their crops and is also contributing to public health problems. Farmers there are accusing the Ministry of Irrigation of diverting water to new neighbourhoods, leaving them with stagnant canals that are quickly turning into rubbish dumps. As more and more rubbish piles up, rats are not far behind and for the children who play in these dumps, disease can be no surprise. Water shortages are also forcing women to collect supplies from wells and farmers say that they have no choice but to wait for water as their crops wither.

A local resident speaking to Al Jazeera explains that due to limited garbage collection, the residents of Abu Sir are forced to dump their rubbish where they can – usually the canals. The dire state of the canals has forced farmers to hire out contractors to clear the rubbish, something they say that the government should be doing. There is clearly a lack of infrastructure and the government needs to do more to provide locals with the amenities to dispose of their rubbish safely.

However, writing on the Arabist blog, a member of a local horse riders organisation says they have worked with Abu Sir residents to develop a garbage collection operation. According to the Egyptian Endurance Riding Association (EERA) website the project was funded by the Egyptian Swiss Development Fund with a total grant of LE 1,700,000.

The scheme meant that each household had to pay a fee of EGP 5.00 a month but unfortunately many villagers had a hard time paying this fee. Another issue the organisation raises is that although community members were keen to take part in cleaning-up campaigns, the results weren’t satisfactory “due to community embedded habits of dumping waste in irrigation canals.”

Clearly, there is a balance to be struck in terms of making sure there are real and viable alternatives to getting rid of rubbish before we can talk about changing embedded habits. It also makes absolutely no sense to be asking poor villagers to pay to dispose of their rubbish safely – if we do, can we really be surprised when we find them dumping trash in their own precious canals?

: Top image is a snapshot of the Al Jazeera report and the second photo is of clear up by EERA.

For more on Egypt and it’s environmental issues see:

Egyptian Campaigner: ‘Corruption not Climate Awareness is Holding Us Back’

Frack Off Shell! Egyptians Launch Anti-Fracking Campaign

Egypt Environment Activists Fighting Back Over Sina Red Sea Bridge

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