Health Risks as Cairo Starts to Miss its Pigs

EGYPT - Garbage is building up in the streets of Cairo following the slaughter of all the country's pigs in the country earlier this year in the mistaken belief that they posed a significant risk of passing the influenza A H1N1 virus to humans.
calendar icon 29 September 2009
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Five months after anxiety about swine flu prompted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's government to order the slaughter of all the country’s 300,000 hogs, the organic waste they once devoured is piling up on Cairo's streets, contributing to a garbage crisis.

Bloomberg reports that the government's action has destroyed the livelihood of about 70,000 families known as zabaleen, who were freelance trash collectors and urban pig farmers. It forced all pork processors and retail outlets to close and created a potential health hazard as neighborhoods reek of decaying garbage. Some residents, concerned that yesterday's discarded kebab might become tomorrow's cholera outbreak, are burning refuse in bonfires.

Zabaleen – trash collectors in Arabic – are rural migrants who have harvested Cairo's rubbish since the end of the 19th century. Families in the central district of Embaba and in Manshiet Nasr, an outlying neighborhood, were dedicated to picking up trash and sorting organic matter from metal, glass and paper.

They disposed of as much as 80 per cent of organic waste, feeding it to the hogs, which often lived in sties next to zabaleens' homes along undrained dirt lanes. Families made money from recycling and from selling pigs to meat processors.

The Agricultural Ministry ordered the pigs eliminated in April, after the outbreak of H1N1 virus in Mexico and the US. Police clubbed the pigs to death and bulldozed them alive under desert sand. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization called the action a mistake, partly because no link was proven between pigs and transmission of flu.

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