Was fur eine Schweinerei!
Egypt is engaging in an unprecedented mass slaughter of it's 300,000 pigs due to fears of swine flu. While some outsiders might applaud this "precautionary" measure in an overpopulated country that has already suffered 26 cases of the deadly avian flu, the impact on the Zurayib Zabaleen population -- Coptic Christians who make a living efficiently recycling more than 85% of Cairo's garbage -- will be devastating.
Not only will they lose their livelihoods (and some insiders say that perhaps that is one of the points -- using this excuse to exterminate not only pigs but a livelihood that can then be replaced by multinational companies and privatised landfill owners) but the city of Cairo will lose one of the most efficient and sensible urban ecology solutions the world has ever seen -- the use of domestic pigs (which evolved with humans for thousands of years) to manage and recycle urban waste, turning it into useful products and fertilizer. Now that beautifully integrated industrial ecology system will be destroyed.
Many of the poor will lose their sole livelihood.
The city will be in a bad position vis a vis massive quantities of organic waste.
What to do?
How do we turn a sow's ear into a silk purse?
( Photo: Hanna Fathy's neighbor keeps donkeys, cows and pigs to help convert city garbage into useful meat, hides, fertilizer and other saleable products. Without these animals the fabric of an urban ecology system that has been working for centuries will fall apart. Another ecological system needs to be put in its place. We suggest the safe use of methanogenic bacteria.)
At Solar CITIES we are confident that this disaster can be mitigated by immediately implementing and extending the "urban-garbage-to-cooking-gas solution" that we learned from Dr. Anand Karve at the Appropriate Rural Technology Institute in Pune, India. We started piloting the ARTI BIOGAS SYSTEMS in the Zurayib Zabaleen and Darb Al Ahmar communities in February.
And we met with great success:
The idea is simple -- since the Coptic Christian community can no longer rely on pigs to efficiently transform the city waste into useful and saleable products, let us now empower them to turn the garbage into power.
Instead of using pigs, Cairo's residents can now use the same symbiotic organisms the pigs themselves were using: safely contained methanogenic bacteria which quickly and efficiently turn kitchen waste into clean natural gas.
( Photo: A satisfied trainee in the Agha Khan Trust for Culture Environmental Science Program inspects the biogas system she learned to build with Solar CITIES on a neighbor's roof.)
In fact Dr. Karve's Household Scale Biogas digestors are cleaner and more efficient than not only pigs but all other forms of waste management. They eliminate all threats of disease, both viral and bacterial. They take the city's kitchen and restaurant and market wastes and turn them directly into safe cooking gas and easily transportable liquid fertilizer. They create no smells or odors, don't breed flies or rats and can be scaled to suit any situation.
Even smaller home scale systems are appearing all over India, made by do-it-yourselfers out of old plastic barrels:
In Kerala, southern India, thanks to Sajis Das of "Biotech", a fish market is using all of its organic waste to actually generate biogas fueled electricity.
We intend to do the same thing in Cairo.
(Photo: T.H. Culhane climbs out of the almost completed biogas digestor after fixing a plumbing problem; Hanna keeps him from getting literal "cold feet" by pouring water onto T.H. from the solar how water system)
And we are doing it on our own porch in Germany:
(Photo: On Sybille and T.H. Culhane's birthday at the Solar CITIES home office in Germany, we threw a "Birthday Bonanza Biogas Building Party", inviting friends over to learn how to build home scale biogas solutions. This 500 liter system is connected to the home-built solar heating system (right) which keeps the internal temperature of the biogas system warm enough for methanogenesis.)
(Photo: Solar CITIES board members Thorsten and Jan at midnight celebrate finishing the installation of styrofoam insulation on the biogas digestor to keep the heat from the solar heat exchanger in during the cold German nights)
At both the home level and the market and community level urban biogas holds the promise to providing waste management, poverty reduction and renewable energy all at the same time, and offers a perfect opportunity to deal with the tragic extermination of the centuries old pig-human relationship.
(We note with some irony that nobody is proposing exterminating the pigs here in Germany; instead veterinarians will inoculate our four-footed friends. It also isn't sure that this so-called "swine flu" was directly transmitted from pigs to people in Mexico, although anecdotal evidence may point to that. The current strain allegedly contains DNA from pigs, birds and humans and could have mutated in another host. Also this may also now be a moot point since it is now all over the world and is spreading from human-to-human contact.
Fellow UCLA Bruin and National Geographic Emerging Explorer Nathan Wolfe recently gave a speech at the TED conference in which he talked about his "early warning system" for Zoonoses (diseases that jump between species) and suggested that we can now manage outbreaks much better and keep public health protected by knowing who is working closely with animals and monitoring the health of both species on a regular basis. Although there have been no reported cases of "swine flu" in North Africa, apparently Egypt's authorities would rather deal with this using a sledgehammer instead of a scalpel. The social costs to the already marginalized Christians will be extreme even if the government carries out its intention to "compensate" some of the pig owners with cash payments. The adage "give a man a fish, you will have fed him for a day; teach a man to fish you will have fed him for a lifetime" can be reversed and transmuted: "give a man cash for his pigs, you have will have fed him for a day. Take away his pigs, you will have robbed him of his living."
For this reason many of the Zurayib Zabaleen are already trying to hide their pigs with relatives in the countryside, desperate to hang on to a symbiotic life support system that has helped them survive for centuries. It is not for nothing that the Copts of Cairo moved to the city WITH their pigs.
If the pigs go, so goes an entire co-evolutionary adaptation and solution to the problems generated by the built-environment that emerged along with civilization. And so goes an entire culture.
But all is not lost. Since the pigs were basically finely-tuned waste-food processors, as symbiotic with their stomach and intestinal flora and fauna as they were with their human associates, the solution of keeping the good microbes working on city garbage even as their original hosts are eliminated is the perfect answer to the current crisis.
By providing the Zabaleen with personal and community biogas digestors (already a mature technology in India and, on a larger scale, here in Germany) we can avoid throwing out the baby with the bath water. We can help the Zabaleen to continue providing their heroic and valuable environmental service to Cairo, adding value by turning garbage directly into clean, useful climate-friendly biogas and liquid fertilizer.
If we can secure enough funding fast enough, by this time next year not only the Zabaleen could regain their livelihoods, but Cairo itself could truly lessen the everpresent threat of disease and become a clean and green city, leading the Middle East in sustainable development.
(Photo: Hanna and his wife Sabah experiment with home-biogas in their new kitchen to cook and make tea for their guests using a flame produced today from yesterday's garbage. Photo courtesy of Omar Nagy, who is doing his Master's degree on the Solar CITIES biogas initiative.)
P.S. TO OUR FRIENDS AND SUPPORTERS:
WE ARE TRYING TO RAISE MONEY TO GET BACK OUT TO CAIRO AS QUICKLY AS WE CAN TO BUILD AS MANY BIOGAS SYSTEMS AS WE CAN FOR THE FAMILIES WHO ARE LOSING THEIR PIGS. WE ALSO WANT TO PRESENT OUR WORK TO THE WORLD BANK AND INTERNATIONAL NEWS MEDIA WHO WILL BE IN CAIRO THIS MID-MAY INSPECTING OUR WORK. IF YOU CAN HELP DONATE ANYTHING FROM AIRLINE TICKETS TO MATERIALS AS WELL AS FUNDS AND PUBLICITY, PLEASE LET US KNOW! CONTACT US AT THCULHANE@GMAIL.COM
To learn more about what we do in the Zabaleen Neighborhood, why not take a musical tour of the neighborhood with us by watching our Music Video "Talkin' Trash", composed and performed by T.H. Culhane: