Manfredi Pantanella

The Zabbaleen

The Zabbaleen

Cairo, the capital of Egypt, is one of the world’s largest cities, more than 25 million inhabitants which produces a lot of wastes.
Until today an ad-lib urban plan could not manage the situation, leaving the city flooding in the trash.

No chance. Luckily, Cairo has the Zabbaleen.

A view from the top of Moquattam hill of the Zabbaleen area.  Here More than 80.000 people live thanks to the garbage. The 90% are Christian Coptic.

The main street of Moquattam. A woman with children burning garbage.

The Zabbaleen are a religious minority of Coptic Christians who have served as 
Cairo’s informal garbage collectors for the past 80 years. Zabbaleen means
 “Garbage people” in Egyptian Arabic. Spread out among seven different settlements scattered in the Greater Cairo Urban Region, the Zabbaleen population is about
 80,000. The largest settlement is in the village of Moqattam, better known as the
 “Garbage City”, located at the feet of the
 Moqattam Mountains, next to Manshiyat Naser, a Muslim squatter settlement 
where the 90 percent of the community of this region are of Christian faith followers

A boy Inside a building doing door to door collection.

Youssef, plastic worker.

The community inside a Cafeteria, during their break.

A Glass collector in front of his factory in Zabbaleen's area. They recycling the 80% of the rubbish they collect.

The top of Moquattam, here the church of Saint Samaan the Tanner group together thousand of faithful.

The Zabbaleen community use to tattoo their children with a Coptic cross on the right wrist. The Coptics use the tattoos to point out their Christian identity.

For the past decades the Zabbaleen have supported themselves by collecting the 
trash, going door-to-door, for almost no
 charges. The Zabbaleens currently recycle up to 80 percent of the collected waste, whereas only 25 percent is reused by Western garbage companies. Many sources agree that the Zabbaleen have created one of the most efficient
 recycling systems in the world, they collect up to 3,000 tons of 
garbage every day. The government does not reward the Zabbaleen for their actions, but instead has created a privatized system of waste collection, which is threatening the 
socio-economic sustainability of the Zabbaleen community. 

Inside a plastic factory in Nasser Hill. The Zabbaleen sell these sorted materials to factories that then reuse these products in the creation of new material.

A young Zabbaleen in a cafeteria.

Samia in her House. She collect organic rubbish to survive since his husband died with a poisoned needle. A lot of hospital trash were deposed in this area. Who collect organic waste , usually, leaves with animals.

A traditional christian tattoo on the right wrist.

Countless fragments of plastic inside a factory in Moquattam. Many Zabbaleen suffer health problems such as hepatitis, throats and breathing problems.

The Egyptian government announced its plans to modernize and ‘Westernize’ the city’s waste management system, claiming the Zabbaleen’s methods were backward and unhygienic. This is not entirely false. Although conditions are improving, diseases such as hepatitis are common. This is hardly surprising when rubbish, including sharp metal, broken glass, and hospital waste such as syringes, are all sorted by hand.

A girl plays on the top of Moquattam.

Mens getting ready for the prey. Every Sunday more than 5000 people come to attend the Mass.

However, the Zabbaleen were joined by many international aid agencies in protesting that the only way to lift them out of poverty was to allow them to keep their jobs as the city’s rubbish collectors. In a country with a 10.8% unemployment rate and with 20% of the population living in poverty, they had a point.

A wedding in Moquattam.

Cafeteria in Moquattam.

The three European companies hired to clean up Cairo cost $50 million a year, and recycled at best 25% of the waste they collected. The companies offered to hire the Zabbaleen as collectors, but offered as little as a dollar a day, half what a Zabbaleen can earn working for himself. However, the privatisation system has failed, leaving the city with litter-strewn streets and the continued use of the unsanitary landfill sites. Some have claimed that all the new modernisation initiatives have done is inspire a new generation of street waste collectors.

A young boy waves egyptian flag on the top of a pigeon house in Moquattam mountain.

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