In 2009 during the height of the swine flu epidemic, Egyptian law officials ordered the culling of thousands of pigs belonging to the Coptic Christian community in Cairo. The pigs were used to chomp down the city’s organic waste, which grew to disgusting new heights in garbage city when they were killed. But now they’re back – in hiding.
Garbage city and the Zabaleen people, who turn mountains, literally mountains (or buildings) full of organic and inorganic waste into something useful has been something of a fascination for the outside world.
Teams of architects have envisioned a way to turn the teeming waste that accumulates in this corner of the city into an energy-generating powerhouse and a wonderful film was recently made to document how the Zabaleen work to recycle so much trash.
The Zabaleen have suffered since 2009. The pigs were essential to the work of consuming organic waste.
Plus, after the culling, thousands of butchers were left without work, according to VOA news, and there was no way to process the waste generated by Cairo’s 18 million residents.
The pigs were controversial – particularly in a Muslim country – but they were effective, and now there are a still a few pigs quietly doing their good work.
“Tucked behind mountains of trash and a wall of flies is a pen full of pigs – the ultimate in organic waste management – and they are making a small, clandestine comeback,” wrote Elizabeth Arrott.
But not everyone is willing to acknowledge they are there, as if drawing attention to them could provoke health officials to clamp down.
Adel Ragi, who is a member of the Garbage Collector’s Union, told the paper that foreign companies have been brought in to tackle Cairo’s phenomenal waste problem, but they just dump the waste on landfills. This is unhelpful – particularly for organic waste, which produces methane when improperly composted.
Christian farmers are trying to set up a new slaughterhouse in order to process the pigs, but they have experienced a delay from authorities.
A Coptic priest who lives above Garbage City calls the pushback a form of religious intolerance since Muslims don’t eat pork, which is perfectly acceptable among Christians.
Image of pigs near pigsty, Shutterstock