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Environmental Voices: No to garbage
Published in Almasry Alyoum on 13 - 12 - 2010

In previous articles dealing with the topics of green politics and the importance of scientific research, the aim was to highlight the belief that both areas require more attention in Egypt.
On green politics, several elements need to be taken into consideration. These include the need to inculcate in ordinary citizens a sense of responsibility with regards to public goods and shared commons, as well as the importance of addressing excessive consumerism. Each individual and institution should also become aware of the impact of their actions and initiatives on the environment.
Policies need to be assessed in a way that minimizes their risk of abusing scarce or depletable natural resources. Finally, there is a need to have solid Green Party representation in the People's Assembly, to act as a watchdog with regards to such abuse.
As for giving attention to scientific research, this is necessary not only out of concern for the environment, but because we are far from having the necessary knowledge base on which to build our future in the face of the continuous, complex and accelerating challenges confronting mankind, not least of which is climate change.
Here, my call for action is more mundane but more pressing: It deals with GARBAGE. The issue is that, as simple as it ought to be, the matter is much more complicated than meets the eye. It points to each one of us as a culprit, even though we may belong to one of the three following groups.
The first group includes those among us who contribute to making things worse, through individual or institutional behavior which does not respect the environment or the common good.
The second group includes those among us who flew from neighborhoods filled with garbage to gated communities, all at a cost, including the risk of totally alienating themselves from what has become of the street and the bulk of society.
The third group includes most of us, who have surrendered to the bitter reality and have learned to endure living surrounded by litter.
More than a year ago there was a more-than-usual garbage attack on our streets and our lives caused by the swine flu upheaval and the consequent cull of pigs as the alleged carrier of the virus. There were many protests at that time against the killing of the animals, but these fell on deaf ears.
Other protesters mounted campaigns against the increasing piles of garbage filling streets and pavements, because, among other reasons, the traditional garbage collectors, the zabaaleen, who used to stockpile garbage to sell to pig breeders (or to supply their own swine) as forage for the now eliminated pig, had no reason to do so anymore.
I was among the other protesters, having launched a blog called NO TO GARBAGE, a slogan which embodied a refusal and rejection of the status-quo and readiness to act against the undignified situation we found ourselves in. I was pleased to find an impressive number of responders to the call for action, especially among youth. However, for any movement to succeed, this requires leadership, institutional backing and organization. Sadly, institutional backing was of a very short duration, and I regrettably had to give up campaigning in the face of mounting resistance to my intervention.
There are many who have done a lot of work in the area of waste management, however, often their work remains provincial and needs scaling up. There is also a need for networking and coordination among all players. But coordination is another taboo area, as teamwork is not a characteristic of Egyptians.
This message is a sort of an apology to all those--and there were many--who responded to my NO TO GARBAGE call for action. For various reasons--some mentioned above--I wasn't able to pursue the fight against garbage which I started.
But if citizens, especially youth, start to view life immersed in garbage as unnatural and begin to gather the mental wherewithal to rebel against these undignified conditions, this could already lead the way to change.
This article is part of Al-Masry Al-Youm's weekly "Environmental Voices" series, in which issues related to the environment--whether local, regional or international in nature--will be discussed from the point of view of environmental experts.


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