Thursday, April 30, 2009
Egypt Slaughters Pigs to Stop Flu, Christians Riot
Christian Fraser assesses the scene at a pig farm
Egypt has begun a mass slaughter of thousands of pigs in an effort to prevent swine flu spreading.
The cull was going ahead despite there being no cases of swine flu in Egypt. However, neighbouring Israel has two confirmed cases in humans.
"It is decided to slaughter all swine herds present in Egypt, starting from today," said Health Minister Hatem el-Gabali, according to Mena news agency.
Swine flu has spread from Mexico to several countries around the world.
From Muslim Qandeel, BBC Arabic
Zaraib, or Stables, is a shanty hidden away in Western Cairo. I had to gain access by jumping over a wall as police have blocked off the area.
Here they breed pigs that feed on refuse. Thousands of Christians live here - and there is one Muslim breeder too, despite the ban on pork in Islam. People are anxious about the cull, fearing it will destroy their livelihood and the government will not give compensation.
"We have been living here for years doing this. We will not surrender," one breeder said. They are threatening a strike. "Let Cairo drown in garbage."
The pigs in Egypt, a largely Muslim country, are raised by the Coptic Christian community.
Estimates of the number of pigs range from 250,000 to 400,000.
Up to 159 people are believed to have died in the outbreak - all but one of them in Mexico.
Confirmed cases of swine flu have been reported in numerous other countries, including New Zealand, Spain, Austria and Canada, but most have been mild cases.
Many of those victims had been to Mexico, prompting airport screening for passengers displaying potential flu symptoms.
Egyptian authorities increased numbers of medical staff at Cairo airport to check passengers arriving from Mexico and will monitor them during their stay.
Egypt suffered during the outbreak of bird flu, between 2004 and 2008, with 22 deaths reported.
The latest swine flu is a variation of H1N1, which causes seasonal outbreaks of flu in humans on a regular basis.
However, this strain contains genetic material that is typically found in strains of the virus that affect humans, birds and swine.
Pigs can act as a "melting pot" for several flu strains.
Egyptian leaders ordered the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of pigs today to help protect against swine flu, prompting angry protests from the poor Christan farmers who feed their animals with a country’s food scraps. The decision was also criticised as a “real mistake” by a senior UN food expert.
The Arab world’s most populous nation has been been badly hit by the H5N1 bird flu virus in recent years and the move to cull up to 400,000 pigs - seen by Muslims as unclean animals - was designed to calm fears of an impending pandemic.
But it left Egypt’s large Coptic Christian minority up in arms, especially the slum-dwelling “Zebaleen” rubbish collectors who rely on the hogs for their livelihood. Scores of them blocked the streets and stoned the vehicles of Health Ministry workers as they arrived to carry out the government’s order at pig farms on the outskirts of Cario this afternoon.
“Our pigs are healthy. They are our capital and they have no diseases,” said Adel Ishak, who feeds his pigs from the rubbish he collects in Manshiet Nasser, northeast of Cairo.
“We remind Hosni Mubarak that we are all Egyptians. Where does he want us to go?” added 46-year-old Gergis Faris, another pig farmer. “We are uneducated people, just living day by day and trying to make a living, and now if our pigs are taken from us without compensation, how are we supposed to live?”
The decison to cull the pigs was announced by Hatem al-Gabali, the Health Minister, after a meeting with President Mubarak. “It has been ordered to immediately begin the slaughter of all herds of pigs in Egypt,” he told reporters.