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Cleaning up the Nile
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 03 - 01 - 2019

While the Pharaohs considered polluting the River Nile to be a sin, their modern descendants have not always seemed to have the same belief. A quick look at almost any spot overlooking the river in Cairo will reveal the amount of garbage that is thrown into it, without even mentioning invisible industrial waste.
Empty plastic bottles, plastic bags and cardboard packaging are what the VeryNile Campaign team expected to find in their attempt to clean two spots of the river in Cairo two weeks ago. But what they found went beyond expectations.
“Broken ceramic sinks, blankets, old clothes and large amount of sealed alcoholic drink bottles were just some of the things we found in a two-hour cleaning event,” said Shady Abdallah, founder of Greenish, a social business aiming to implement sustainable environmental solutions.
VeryNile seeks to clean up the Nile, and it saw the light at the hands of Greenish and Bassita, an Egyptian startup specialising in click funding. The campaign has also benefited from the support of governmental and private institutions including the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, the Nile Taxi, and the Egyptian Rowing Club.
Starting in mid-December, the initiative aimed to find a sustainable solution to cleaning the Nile. Through events including hundreds of volunteers removing the waste from different spots of the Nile, the campaign has extended to the governorates and aims to make a real difference to perceptions of the Nile.
Starting as a “crazy pop-up idea” that could never come true, as Abdallah describes it, VeryNile aims to clean up 1km of the Nile at every event with the help of volunteers. It also has a long-term plan currently being discussed with the Ministry of Water Resources in order to sustain the cleaning process until the river is waste-free.
“Our target is to encourage fishermen to help us cleaning up the Nile. They spend most of their time on the Nile, so we are currently making plans that will encourage them to get involved in cleaning it up. We will recycle the garbage they collect, and they will get some of the profit,” Abdallah explained.
The team of young founders is also raising people's awareness of the importance of protecting the Nile through the monthly cleaning campaigns.
The first event, which took place on 15 December, saw the participation of 250 volunteers who in two hours succeeded in removing 1.5 tons of waste from only 2km of the Nile in Cairo.
“We do not know how much trash there is in the Nile. But we know that all of the plastic waste in the world's oceans comes down five main rivers. The Nile is one of them,” Abdallah added.
Other than their bare hands, the volunteers use basic tools to assist them, including swimming-pool skimmers. Abdallah said that many of the volunteers came with equipment, and they were provided with the rest by the New Zealand Embassy in Cairo.
“Some things were extremely hard to remove from the river. Blankets, for example, were arduous to pull out while soaked with water. Sinks were also challenging to carry. However, most of the garbage is plastic waste which is damaging for fish and the environment,” Abdallah added.
Despite the lengthy permissions process, Abdallah said that both the ministry and the Nile police had shown support and provided security for the volunteers.
The event was met with praise on social media. “We received 600 applications from people who wanted to volunteer when we started receiving applications before the first event. But we wanted the number of participants to be limited so that we could manage them.
Seven days after opening calls for the second event, planned to take place in February, more than 4,000 applicants had requested to participate.
“We knew the campaign was going to go viral on social media. There are a lot of people out there who share our dream of a clean, garbage-free Nile,” Abdallah commented.

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