Marketplace Scratch Pad

Rash decisions

Scott Jagow Sep 28, 2009

If you think your government has made some hasty decisions based largely on fear, you have to see what’s happening in Egypt right now. There has never been a more literal example of “haste makes waste.”

Remember back in the spring when Egypt ordered that every pig in the country be slaughtered? The government was worried swine flu might come to Egypt, so they killed all the pigs. Well, the flu came anyway, and now there’s another problem. Trash is piling up in the streets of Cairo. Big time.

You see, the pigs used to eat it. Garbage collection was informally handled by a group of Christians called the zabaleen. They collected the trash, sold the recyclables and fed tons of organic waste to the pigs. Then, they’d eat the pigs. But now, the zabaleen won’t collect the trash because the government killed all the pigs. From the New York Times:

It has exposed the failings of a government where the power is concentrated at the top, where decisions are often carried out with little consideration for their consequences and where follow-up is often nonexistent, according to social commentators and government officials.

“The main problem in Egypt is follow-up,” said Sabir Abdel Aziz Galal, chief of the infectious disease department at the Ministry of Agriculture. “A decision is taken, there is follow-up for a period of time, but after that, they get busy with something else and forget about it. This is the case with everything.”

See the disinterested non-pig in the background of this picture? That’s who’s in charge of cleaning up the trash in Cairo now. It’s a problem.

Having been to Cairo recently, this doesn’t surprise me one bit. I heard countless stories of the government’s bureaucracy and ineptitude (and experienced it a little myself). In this case, Egypt made matters worse with yet another poor decision. The government hired a multinational company to collect the trash, but the company put bins around the city, neglecting to understand that the people of Cairo weren’t used to taking out the trash. The zabaleen had been collecting it from their door.

I had two reactions to the story. One: criticize the US government all you want, but it has nothing on a government like Egypt’s in the Department of Dysfunctionality. But two: the unintended consequences of decisions made in a hurry can be scary, and that’s something our government could share in common with the Egyptians. I wonder what our trash heap might be?

In case you missed our coverage from Cairo and Dubai last year, you can peruse it here.

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