Don’t worry, I am not obsessed with waste and the fact that this word appears in the titles of this post and the previous one is a coincidence. Today’s entry deals with a different topic and is therefore not a… waste of space.
A few weeks ago, Bejaia’s local press reported two things:
- A local association provided containers to collect leftover bread. Algeria subsidizes bread among other goods and many Algerians, who pay 8.50DZD for a French baguette, throw huge quantities of it every day.
- The port of Bejaia installed different bins for selective sorting of waste.
The two initiatives are positive and I applaud them but (yes, sorry) the second is at best useless and at worst another illustration of how the authorities like to pretend. I know many would say recycling needs to start somewhere and every step, however tiny it may be, is a step forward and should be welcome. And I agree and I even stopped typing because I was busy clapping my hands, and recycling is already a reality in Algeria and its efficiency needs to be improved. And selective sorting is one way to go.
The issue we have is that, not only there is so little information given to the people about selective sorting and the waste cycle, we have yet to find a proper and reliable way of collecting waste. Let me tell you about a different cycle, the waste container cycle which I witnessed too many times.
As you can see in the slide show above (pictures borrowed from Algerian news sites), the cycle has three main steps:
- Step 1: The local authorities acquire new containers and puts them on the street. This is valid only when the cycle is launched. On the next occurrences of step 1, the authorities may do the job but most often the containers are bought by somebody or a group of people in the neighbourhood. This is an instantaneous step.
- Step 2: The number of containers to the number of people ratio is usually very low. In our case, it was 3 to 5 containers for more than a thousand people. So obviously waste is thrown in the containers and around it. Then the authorities ask the people to throw their garbage at specific times (usually before the trash truck passes by) but people don’t like constraints and the whole thing is not efficient any way. Also as nobody cleans the place or washes the containers, filth and bad smell is the result. This step could last between 2 and 6 months and in some lucky cases for ever.
- Step 3: Here the containers disappear. In our case, they disappeared twice without any witness. You know the night before they were there and the next morning nada. And on one cycle occurrence, it was the youths of the neighbourhood who set them on fire to protest against God knows what… This step could last several years and if you’re unlucky the cycle never restarts. Again in my example, the trash bags were put next to a primary school’s wall and one a month somebody puts the whole thing on fire. So besides cats and seabirds, the smell and visual pollution, you’ll endure the smoke. And if your children are in that school then.. well.
I know the above is just the situation in my neighbourhood and I don’t claim that it is representative of every Algerian city, but my point is about the filth that surrounds us and which is, unfortunately, all over Algeria. My mother hates going out only because she cannot bear the ubiquitous dirt which hurts her eyes. And the situation is not improving.
We are indeed in one of those situations where everybody complains and speaks as if it’s everyone else’s fault, and, as there is no-one else left, it becomes nobody’s fault and yet the cities keep getting dirtier. And human waste is not the only visual dirt we spot in Algerian cities, the whole landscape is dirty, the buildings, their style, the broken pavements, the shops’ merchandise spread on the sidewalks, the dirty cars, etc. Such a lack of responsibility and sense of aesthetics.
I can of course state the obvious and blame the local authorities (pro-pouvoir and pseudo-opposition alike) and th people themselves but, again, how to fix something when everybody’s responsible (i.e. nobody’s responsible)?
Therefore, the simplest way is to declare it’s the foreign hand’s fault, or, to use its popular version in Kabylia, c’est voulu.