. . . Or At Least Sanitary Districts
The New York Times reports on the trials and tribulations of trash collectors in Baghdad (SEE below).
What, with the car bombings, insurgencies, and occasional rocket attack, it seems that even picking up the garbage is risky business -- and not only on bulk collection days.
That's why we should consider exports to Iraq more in line with our treasured democratic way of life -- since, obviously, sending these folks billions in cash, our young men and women, and our Constitution (of limited use here, anyway), just isn't enough.
We're hearing rumors at The Community Alliance that Don Rumsfeld has entered into secret discussions with the Town of Hempstead's Kate Murray -- something about sending consultants to the region to explore the possiblity of establishing special districts in Iraq.
While Town officials will neither confirm nor deny these reports (that means they're true, folks), Counsel to Town of Hempstead Sanitary District 1, Nat Swergold, was seen boarding a Saudi Air jet the other day, en route to an undisclosed destination, believed to be Yemen.
We caught up with attorney Swergold at the gate, boarding pass and loaf of bread in hand, and asked him about his mission.
"Its all about giving the Iraqi people local control," said Swergold. "That, and sucking every last dollar out of their pockets.... Think about it, if we divide and conquer in Iraq, as we do in the Town of Hempstead, folks will be so confused and confounded, they'll have no time for civil unrest. And when you pay more for garbage collection than you do for local police protection, why, freedom and the democratic way of life are just around the corner."
Hmmm. Interesting thoughts.
Nat Swergold may have a point there. Or maybe all they need is to simply add additional trucks during Ramadan to pick up the leftover food.
And who knows, while the Iraqis are preoccupied with lighting districts, sewer districts, roadside munitions containment districts, we can bring home that army of occupation we've sent over there, and no one will even notice.
Anyway, with all the money Iraqis will pay to "enjoy" special district services, they won't have a nickel left over, either for pipe bombs or for training Al Queda. A win-win for all of us!
Cost of the War in Iraq (to date): $333,909,200,000 (and the meter is running)
Number of American service people killed in Iraq (to date): 2756
Typical household tax paid for garbage collection in Sanitary District 6: $801.00
Bringing Special Districts to the rest of the world: PRICELESS!
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Even Picking Up Trash Is a High Risk in Baghdad
By MICHAEL LUO
BAGHDAD, Oct. 12 — Sabah al-Atia sometimes calls home every 10 minutes when he is working to let his wife know he is still alive. After all, his job is one of the most dangerous in the city.
Mr. Atia is a trash collector.
In a city where a bomb could be lurking beneath any heap of refuse, and where insurgents are willing to kill to prevent them from being discovered, an occupation that pays only a few dollars a day has become one of the deadliest. Most of the 500 municipal workers who have been killed here since 2005 have been trash collectors, said Naeem al-Kaabi, the city’s deputy mayor.
“When we are working, we are working nervously,” said Mr. Atia, 29, who started collecting trash during Saddam Hussein’s rule. “We are carrying our souls in our hands.”
The danger to trash collectors is at the root of one of the most visible symptoms of collapse in Baghdad. Garbage is ubiquitous, especially in dangerous neighborhoods, blanketing street medians, alleys and vacant lots in stinking, fly-infested quilts. Trash collection has joined a long list of basic services, including electricity, water and sewerage, that have slipped badly in many places since the American-led invasion.
Trash collectors have frequently refused to venture into especially problem-plagued Baghdad neighborhoods, including Dora, Adhamiya, Jamiya and Ghazaliya, where spasms of violence have often been the norm. Or they have dashed in and out when the danger ebbed, hauling away what they could.
Insurgents have taken to hiding roadside bombs amid the refuse. Trash collectors sometimes stumble upon them and notify the police, but other times they are not so lucky.
To protect the bombs set for American and Iraqi convoys, insurgents have killed scores of trash collectors.
Most of the workers are Shiites, Mr. Atia said. They usually have few other options because of their limited schooling. Because they work in the open, he said, they are easy targets for Sunni extremists. Mr. Atia used to decorate the inside of his trash van with the images of Shiite clerics, but he took them down.
“We are afraid,” he said.
Beyond the challenges posed by the violence, the city is woefully ill equipped to deal with the waste of six million people. It has just 380 working trash compacting trucks, compared with 1,200 before the fall of the Hussein government, Mr. Kaabi said. Most of the vehicles were destroyed or lost in the looting that seized this capital after the invasion. He estimated that Baghdad needed 1,500 garbage trucks.
With help from the Iraqi government and private organizations, the city is looking to acquire several hundred trucks, he said, and substantially upgrade its facilities for processing waste.
“We want to make Baghdad a civilized and bright city,” Mr. Kaabi said.
But any tour of the capital demonstrates it has a long way to go to reach that goal. In Arasat, an upscale neighborhood, trash heaps are piled waist high in front of an electronics store in a street off the main road. In Saidiya, a middle-class neighborhood in western Baghdad, 10 piles of random garbage dot an area barely a quarter-mile square.
“I never see the trash collectors,” said Aimen Amjad, 30, a shop owner in Saidiya. “If they do come, they come once in a blue moon.”
Ola Sami, whose third-floor apartment balcony overlooks a large neighborhood dumping ground, said she was worried about the spread of disease.
“Forget about how badly it smells,” she said. “My son got infected because of the piles. The area is like a barn.”
Even in Masbah, a wealthy central Baghdad neighborhood that was once home to many of the foreign embassies in Iraq, mounds of refuse have accumulated in front of elegant homes and gardens.
“If we try to sit in the garden, we cannot because of flies and mosquitoes,” said Muhammad Amin, 45, who lives next to one of the larger heaps of trash on his block. “We cannot even sit in the garden to enjoy the weather.”
It had been months since trash collectors, who went door to door during Mr. Hussein’s rule, had come down his street, he said, because of concrete barriers blocking the road.
In Mansour, the troubled western Baghdad district where municipal officials have struggled to keep trash from accumulating, a district councilman who would give only his last name, Naji, said he had fewer than half the trucks he needed. As a result, each garbage crew has to handle a much larger area than it should, which means the trucks make fewer trips through each neighborhood and the trash heaps grow.
Meanwhile, side streets are often ignored because the district does not have enough small garbage trucks that can squeeze down the alleys.
But security is by far the larger issue, Mr. Naji said. In dangerous areas in the district, the main roads, where many people have taken to dumping their trash, cannot be cleaned because roadside bombs are often hidden there.
Sadr City, the Shiite slum that was once notorious for its trash-strewn streets, is one place where conditions have improved. In the past, residents would often use the mounds of trash that dotted street medians as landmarks. (Turn right at the fourth trash pile.)
But over the last few months, the area, which has been relatively free of violence because it is dominated by the Mahdi Army, Moktada al-Sadr’s militia, has become cleaner. Municipal work crews now go daily to shovel away trash dumped on the main roads. A median across a street from a busy food market that used to be piled high with garbage was closed off by a barbed-wire fence.
Still, it is hardly pristine. On a recent afternoon, children picked through an expanse of trash off the main road leading into the neighborhood. Deeper into the slum, near a fruit stand, rancid garbage lay in a wide ditch.
Usually just one garbage truck, with a driver and a worker, serves 20,000 to 30,000 people, said Satar Jabar, a district council member.
“It is not enough,” he said.
In many places, a more profound change is needed, said Ali Hasan, a Mansour District Council member who represents Washash, a poor neighborhood where trash is a major blight. The fall of the government brought freedom, he said, which some interpret to mean freedom to dispose their trash as they please.
“During the time of Saddam, people were afraid of authorities,” Mr. Hasan said. “But now people are not under anyone’s control, and they don’t have the awareness to keep their neighborhood clean.”
Mr. Hasan said he had became so exasperated that people were not throwing their trash in bins, he assigned a person to each one, ordering them to carry trash from every home to the metal bin. But the police later took away the bins because of fears they could be hiding places for explosives, so the idea collapsed.
The city government has tried educational campaigns, posters, even seminars in schools and mosques to promote cleanliness. But in certain areas, only an armed presence has helped. Since August, the American military, with its Iraqi counterpart, has been conducting neighborhood sweeps of troubled sections of Baghdad. Once areas are secured, trash removal by Iraqi crews is among the first priorities.
The most recent statistics on the campaign contained a startling figure, alongside others on houses searched and weapons seized: 7,107,536 cubic feet of trash removed, about the size of the Hindenburg.
Muhammad Hasan was in charge of a crew of 40 working recently in Dora, one of the first neighborhoods secured.
“As you can see, the workers are working without any threat from insurgents,” he said.
Before the Americans came through, trash collectors had not showed up for months in some places, several Dora residents said. The situation has begun to improve. At first, the main roads were cleared but the side streets remained repugnant. Now even those are being shoveled clean.
Elsewhere in the city, however, the piles continue to grow.
Reporting was contributed by Khalid al-Ansary, Omar al-Neami Khalid W. Hassan, Hosham Hussein, Qais Mizher and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company