They killed all 300,000 of Egypt’s pigs this spring in an impulsive attempt to control swine flu, even though no cases had been reported within the country’s borders. Now, Egyptian officials are wondering if they made a mistake, as the trash that the pigs once consumed accumulates in massive stinking piles. 

Once, the Zabaleen -- Egypt’s largely Christian community of garbage collectors and processors, who live in slums outside Cairo -- went door-to-door collecting organic waste, which they would then feed to their pigs. The pigs were an ultra-efficient, low-cost way to process the waste.

But when the government ordered the cull, the Zabaleen and local pig farmers clashed with police in an attempt to keep their animals from being taken away from them without compensation. They vowed to stop taking care of the organic waste.

The Egyptian government proceeded with the cull despite criticism from international authorities, who warned that it would do nothing to stop the threat of H1N1. And, though they had promised to do it humanely according to Islamic law, reporters from a local newspaper captured tragic footage of live piglets being dropped into dump trucks, stabbed and beaten.

“They killed the pigs, let them clean the city,” former garbage collector and pig owner Moussa Rateb told The New York Times. “Everything used to go to the pigs, now there are no pigs, so it goes to the administration.”

It’s not just the lack of pigs that’s causing this big, smelly problem in Egypt. It’s also the government’s bumbling attempt to modernize Egyptian trash collection, hiring multinational companies with shiny new trucks and bins that simply can’t keep up with the flow of garbage. 

Egyptian citizens are used to the ways of the Zabaleen, who were very efficient at gathering and processing trash, and they haven’t adapted to the new system.

Sadly, it seems as if the pigs died in vain. Despite the cull, there have been 800 confirmed cases of H1N1 in Egypt and two flu-related deaths. Meanwhile, the trash piles grow and grow.

Economist, writer and social critic Galal Amin summed up the situation in one simple sentence: “The Egyptians are really in a mess.”