The Garbage City

Manshiet Nasser is a strange community in Cairo, Egypt. People call this place The City of Garbage because tons of trash come here from all over the capital of Egypt. The most unusual thing about this place is that people actually live here. Another strange thing about Manshiet Nasser is that local residents, the Zabbaleen, including women and kids dig through the garbage looking for something to resell. About 80 per cent of this trash is recycled and resold later on. Manshiet Nasser,a 10,000 sq km area of which half is inhabited, is a literally handmade town, an example of the survival techniques to which the desperate resort in the absence of any other options. A Fatimid limestone quarry partly evacuated to the Moqattam Hills to make room for the Autostrad in 1960, the neighbourhood is set at the back of a limestone cliff, lying on and around the elevation; it is flanked on the west by the Salah Salem highway, on the north by Nasr City’s Tayaran Street.

Aside from the fragmentary, unstable nature of their infrastructure and the frequent lack of basic amenities, housing has been the main problem facing Manshiet Nasser residents since 1972, when it became an attraction point to the garbage collectors of Cairo. Periodically when its inhabitants have grown in number, carving their own living space into the hill, the government chased them out, contesting the legality of their housing and their right to the land on which they were built. In 1984, an attempt to legitimise their presence was aborted when the rates at which the government offered them legal contracts to the land proved unaffordable.

Manshiyat naser is a slum settlement on the outskirts of the city of Cairo whose economy revolves around the collection and recycling of the city’s garbage. Although the area has streets, shops, and apartments like any other area of the city, it lacks infrastructure and often has no running water, sewage, or electricity.The city’s garbage is brought to Manshiyat Naser by the Zabbaleen, or garbage collectors, who then sort through the garbage to attempt to retrieve any potentially useful or recyclable items. As a passerby walks or drives down the road he will see large rooms stacked with garbage with men, women or children crouching and sorting the garbage into unsellable or sell-able. Families typically specialize in a particular type of garbage they sort and sell – one room of children sorting out plastic bottles, while the next of women separating cans from the rest. Anything that can be reused or recycled is saved by one of the numerous families in Manshiyat naser. Various recycled paper and glass products are made and sold from the city, while metal is sold by the kilo to be melted down and reused. Carts pulled by horse or donkey are often stacked 2.5 to 3m high with the recyclable goods.

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