Pick rubbish up? But what are the street cleaners for?

27 Sep
In Sana’a, polystyrene sheets carelessly disgarded by construction workers fly up into the air (left), before finally settling in a main street (right). (photo by Malak Shaher)

Malak Shaher

Yemen Times

Published:27-09-2010

Carrying large slabs of marble on their shoulders, the workers on a building site off Hadda street in Sana’a just wanted to finish their day’s labor. But they were creating an immense task for the street cleaners who would have to clear up after them.

Before taking the marble inside, they tore off the covers and threw them into the street.

Soon pieces of polystyrene were flapping in the wind. The whole place was a mess.

“What are the street cleaners for then?” asked one of five construction workers unwrapping the marble. “It is their duty to clean whatever is in the street – otherwise they do not need a monthly salary.”

“We are going to make quilts out of them,” another joked, as he pointed to the piles of polystyrene and cardboard that littered the ground.

The workers seemed convinced that they were doing no wrong but stopped talking when a sudden gust of wind carried the rubbish up into the air.

This scene is not unfamiliar for street sweeper Othman Ali, 35. It is part of his everyday routine. Othman wakes up early in the morning to clean the street before people can see it filthy.

“What should I do?” he asked. “People do not feel for us. To live, I must keep cleaning for the eight hours assigned to me.”

Othman, who works seven days a week, complained that while he sweeps people sometimes throw things in front of him.

Such behavior fills him with frustration and depression, especially when people know that he has to clean up after them.

To support his wife and three children, he receives a maximum monthly salary of YR 20,000 – less than USD 100 – at the end of the month. If he misses a single day it’s automatically deducted from his salary.

Othman is one of more than 4,000 street cleaners in the capital Sana’a.

There are three shifts in general. The first is from 7 am till 11 am, the second from 2 pm to 6 pm and the third from 7 pm to 11 pm.

Each street cleaner works for two shifts according to what is specified by the cleaning administration at the municipality.

The street cleaners of Sana’a work day and night to make the street tidy. But the streets often lie dirty as many people do not cooperate, throwing things in the street moments after the street cleaners have left the place clean.

In addition to street cleaners, the cleaning administration also has vehicles to collect the garbage from houses and shops.

“One day we were collecting the garbage from people’s houses when a woman threw a full bag of rubbish from the third floor. It scattered everywhere and I had to collect it all up,” said Abdulrahman Sadeq, 20.

Sometimes, he said, our car has to return to the same place three times as people forget to put their rubbish out.

According to the law, a fine of YR 1,000 to 10,000 is imposed on anyone who throws their garbage out after the rubbish vehicle passes.

“Everybody should have a sense of cleanliness. It is everybody’s responsibility,” said Ali Al-Sanhani from the cleaning administration.

There are 17 districts in Sana’a. Each has two supervisors reporting on the area’s cleanliness and checking whether the cleaners are working or not, according to Abdulhakim Saber, general secretary of the cleaning administration.

Saber added that Sana’a’s expanding population has added more to their responsibility as they now have to provide the new areas with street cleaners.

“Therefore, we have an emergency unit. It consists of 124 streets sweepers who are taken to the areas most needed to be cleaned,” Mohammad Al-Raidi, the head of the unit said.

Every day, 1,350 tons of garbage is collected from Sana’a’s streets.

In the seasons of Eid and Ramadan, some 4,000 to 6,000 tons are collected per day, according to Abdulla Naser Al-Zoba, the director of the administration.

6,829 tons of garbage was collected on the first day of Eid, two weeks ago, he added.

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