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Monday, 15 February 2010

Doggy Doo on my shoe and other litter!!

I was walking from home to work the other day and almost stepped in some doggy doo. I was very lucky not to end up with doggy doo on my shoes. At first I thought nothing of it but then I came across some more, then some more, and then yet more!!

That set me thinking about the state of the streets here in Hurghada.

The area I was walking in is known as the Touristic Centre. Basically, it's a small development of mainly villas (please don't think grand or anything like you find in Spain and Portugal called a Villa). These are for the most part quite ordinary 3 bedroom terraced dwellings with very small front gardens and a slightly larger garden at the back. They are on 2 levels just like an English house. Many of them are owned by foreigners, quite a few by Egyptians and several are used as offices by businesses. It is to an office that I was walking at the time. It's a quiet area just off the main promenade of the "New Hurghada" or "Village Road". This is the most modern part of Hurghada and is quite some distance from the original fishing village of Dahar (where tourism here all began about 25 years ago) and the main tourist shopping centre of Sekala.

Just after I narrowly missed stepping in this stuff I saw a man walking his dog along the road. That set me thinking about WHO had left the doggy doo on the public pavement.

It is quite unusual here for Egyptians to have pets in the house. Some may have cats but not many have dogs. There is no welfare state here and most feel the money spent on pets is better spent on the family. That said, there are, as always, exceptions. However, I started to notice the dog walkers in this area over a number of days. I only saw 1 Egyptian with a dog. All the others (around 12) were ex-pats from somewhere else.

This begs the question of why the doggie doo was on the pavement even more. I know in Europe there are laws about this kind of thing. In England not only is it against the law to not clean up after your pet (it is accepted you cannot always stop the dog from producing the doggie doo in the first place) but it is also socially unacceptable meaning that the majority of people carry scoops and plastic bags with them when walking the dog. In parks and recreational areas there are often special bins for this crap (forgive the word used but I think it is appropriate here). I just wonder why someone would come from a country where they would be very careful to clean up after their pet and think they don't have to bother here – just because they're in Egypt. We are here as guests and should behave as such. Egypt is not our dumping ground or an excuse not to conduct ourselves properly. I had thought to be charitable and blame it on the street dogs but there aren't many of them in this area.

However, looking around I decided I wasn't really surprised. You should see the state of the streets here.

Littering abounds in Hurghada and the streets are full of it. It is commonplace to see an Egyptian come out of a shop with a packet of cigarettes, open them as he walks along throwing the packaging down in the street as he goes. Similarly, if they have a drinks can as soon as the drink is finished the can is discarded wherever they happen to be. There is no culture of taking things home to dispose of in the domestic rubbish nor any campaign to mirror the "it just takes a minute to bag it and bin it" promotion in the UK.

Part of the problem, I believe, is the lack of litter bins in the streets. The one thing the new promenade area has done well is place lots of litter bins around. Consequently, there is far less litter here than elsewhere in Hurghada.

In Dahar and Sekala, on the other hand, it is impossible to go anywhere without walking through someone else's rubbish. If you stray off the main tarmac street down the side-streets it can be like walking through your local rubbish dump. You have to appreciate here though that Hurghada is still very much a 'work in progress'. Building work started about 25 years ago when it was first discovered and is still going on. Don't be fooled into thinking this means that Hurghada is a hive of building activity. On the contrary, work continues but VERY slowly. A very large number of buildings were started and have been in a partially built state for more than 15 years now. The land, which was owned by the Government, was sold off exceptionally cheaply. The new owners put in some footings (that is if they could be bothered to do anything at all or if their contract called for it – there is still a lot of land lying fallow) and simply left them. Meanwhile land prices have risen astronomically so there are quite a few theoretically rich Egyptians around once they cash in on the land. This situation may now improve because the local Governorate recently passed an order that any land that was not substantially developed within a certain time from now will revert back to the Government at the original price. That has certainly spurred some of the owners into action.

However, the upshot of all this 'work in progress' is that streets are not finished because no-one wants to spend money laying expensive tarmac only for it to be dug up a couple of years later for new water mains, electricity cables, sewage pipes etc. to be laid. Therefore, they are waiting until buildings are completed and then finishing the roads.

This makes perfect sense but, in the meantime, we have the rubbish problem. Great piles of it are to be found in the dirt streets. For many, their local rubbish collection point is a street corner where everything is left in plastic bags which are then torn apart by the street dogs and cats looking for a meal – not to mention the crows.

To be fair, the rubbish collection vehicle (a much smaller version of those you see throughout Europe) does the rounds most days. Before they arrive a local Street Cleaner from Care Services (this is the branch of Local Government that looks after the streets) does his best to put everything into one huge rugged blue bag. The vehicle crew then try to heave this new oversize sac up into the hold. If extra rubbish has accumulated they toss this up as well. They normally have someone riding in the hold who helps by catching what is thrown up. Sadly, he often misses and then more rubbish is scattered back all over the street. They do not set about collecting this. It takes too long. They simply leave it and move along to the next corner. So, for a full week this rubbish blows around in the wind.

In some households the people are too lazy to take the rubbish even to the corner for collection and tend to leave it outside an adjacent building. I noticed they never leave it outside their own building – always outside someone else's. This rubbish is therefore overlooked when the collection vehicle comes and builds up, often smelling rather bad, until someone sets fire to it, a local answer to rubbish disposal. At least the fire gets rid of the smell and reduces the volume of the rubbish.

Sadly, a very large number of plastic bags do get blown into the sea and create hazards for the underwater flora and fauna. On the annual 'Clean Up Day' divers will retrieve hundreds of tons of plastic bags, discarded plastic and glass jars and bottles, drinks cans and some more amusing items. On one clean up a bed was found complete with a blanket.

Many groups, including prominent environmental groups, have been complaining about this for ages and campaigning for improvements. Their pleas seemed to fall very much on deaf ears until recently. There have been some recent developments that are definitely a move in the right direction.

Firstly, the Governorate has decreed that shopping should be presented in paper bags and that plastic bags are to be a thing of the past. This is very good news and is being implemented by the major supermarkets in the area. In Hurghada we have Metro, Spinney, Abo Ashara and Hamed Sons as the main players and they are all now plastic bag free zones. It can be a little more difficult getting the shopping home if you don't have a car because the paper bags are not as strong as the plastic ones and can't carry as much but it's worth it. Two of these supermarkets are using recyclable paper – not sure about the other two though. Also, there has been some opposition because the free paper bags do not have handles. They are similar to the paper grocery bags you see in American movies. If you want a stronger bag with handles you have to pay for it. It costs a whole 80 piastres – at the moment that's about 10p English money (0.10GBP). But you can, of course, use the same bag again next time as long as you remember to take it with you.

The second thing is that a local organisation called HEPCA (Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Agency) has been given a contract to keep the streets of Sekala clean. This organisation already has a large waste collection and recycling plant in Hurghada and another in Marsa Alam. They have been busy helping hotels to sort and recycle their waste and even collect it from them. They have a lot of projects centred around protecting and improving the environment – both terrestrial and maritime. I read about this new contract around a week ago and was amazed, when I visited Sekala just yesterday, at what a difference they've made already. The main street (a properly made street) was certainly much cleaner. The area outside Macdonald's is usually pretty littered but was clear. I ventured up a side street expecting to wade through the rubbish only to find this street was also clear and much more pleasant. I wandered down a few more side-streets and it was the same story. It just proves that even with no proper surface the streets can be clean and pleasant places to be rather than an eyesore to be ashamed of. I just hope they will now extend this contract to take in the rest of Hurghada. It's such a pity when the first thing our visitors from abroad see as they leave the airport is a landscape full of rubbish. How much nicer it would be to see the pristine desert as it should be.

So, how does this help with the doggy doo? Well, I'm sure this is NOT top of the agenda. However, I'm hoping that as things move from better to excellent we may even start to see the doggy doo bins appearing here and then woe betide any who do not clean up after their pets. We can all do without the doo on our shoes.

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