Last Saturday, a group of 250 volunteers on boats and ships removed 1.5 tonnes of garbage, mostly plastic, from the Nile as part of a new initiative to clean up Cairo’s famous river.
The ‘Very Nile’ initiative has taken social media by storm, and many more young people have expressed a desire to join the next event in the new year.
Ahram Online spoke with one of the initiative’s organisers to learn more about it.
“It started as an idea five months ago when four of us were walking along the Nile in Cairo, which looked foul, and we wanted to help clean it up,” Mostafa Habib, Very Nile’s project officer, told Ahram Online.
The group, which was already working on the social start-up Bassita, looked to the US-based 4ocean initiative to recover plastic from the oceans in the United States as a model example.
"At first, we launched a website to raise awareness about Nile pollution, then we began to search for partners that have experience in the field, and we found Greenish,” said Naguib, 27.
Another rising social start-up aimed at spreading sustainable environmental solutions to companies and schools, Greenish had carried out a similar clean-up event in the past that generated lots of positive reactions.
“Greenish had already organised an event in Alexandria [in September] with the European Union to clean up the beach, and it was a massive success,” Naguib said.
Greenish was supportive of the project, according to Naguib, although also realistic about what could be achieved.
“We went to them with big plans of having 300 boats cleaning the Nile, but they [Greenish] told us to slow down and start with a smaller effort [and organised] the logistics,” Naguib said.
The next step was to gather sponsors, and the Nile Taxi transportation app service jumped onboard, providing contacts and helping coordinate the effort.
The Egyptian Rowing and Canoe Federation and its head Sarah El-Baeh also joined the effort.
“Sarah El-Baeh told us that she had been waiting for such an initiative because rowers were suffering from Nile pollution,” Naguib said, adding that El-Baeh gave them valuable contacts at rowing and canoe clubs such as the Egyptian Rowing Club, where the event would eventually be held.
“Everybody was so helpful and excited about the idea, saying it was much needed,” he added.
The Sea Scouts of Cairo and Giza also joined the effort.
According to volunteers participating in cleaning the river Nile on 15 December as part of "Very Nile" initiative (Photo: Very Nile)
“We wanted to have a sustainable cycle, not just a one-day event, and we thought of the Nile fishermen, because they work on the river 24/7,” he said.
The idea was to have the fishermen gather plastic and bring it back along with the fish in return for money, food supplies or educational materials. The fishermen chiefs were contacted and liked the idea.
"I can get you tonnes of plastic instead of a kilo,” Naguib recounts the answer of one of the fishermen they reached out to.
A fisherman participating in Very Nile intiative (Photo: Very Nile)
Also included in the sustainable cycle of Very Nile were garbage collectors, who would take the garbage to recyclers in Cairo, with whom an agreement was also reached.
On the day of the event, several fishermen worked with the volunteers to remove the plastic from the river. Members of the Sea Scouts also showed up, along with over 100 volunteers, and they managed to collect 1.5 tonnes of rubbish from the Nile.
When it comes to funding and the supply of equipment, the embassy of New Zealand and the International Organization of Migration helped out.
As for support from the state, Naguib said that the initiative contacted the Ministry of Irrigation, which supported the initiative and officially announced its patronage, but on the day of the event, no officials from the ministry attended.
“I can excuse them, because the ministry did not imagine that we would be as successful as we were on that day. But I think now they definitely will have faith in us,”Naguib said.
The irrigation ministry has launched similar events in the past with youth organisations to clean up the river, though none have garnered as much public attention as Very Nile.
On Wednesday, the ministry announced that Minister of Irrigation Mohamed Abdel-Ati had honoured several of the volunteers.
“Egypt annually removes 7.5 million tonnes of waste from the River Nile,” Abdel-Ati said, adding that plastic waste is negatively affecting the eco-system of the river, its marine life, and the people of Egypt.
The minister also said that Egypt has allocated billions of pounds to cleaning water sources through to 2037.
The initiative also tried to contact the environment ministry, but Minister Yasmine Fouad was out of town at the time, according to her office, which expressed interest in the idea for the event.
“Hopefully we are going to meet with [the environment minister] soon,” Naguib said.
The organisers are hoping for even bigger participation at the next event, which will be held in February.