Al Jazeera is following the effects of the global recession on five towns across the globe. Rawya Rageh reports from Damietta in Egypt.
Woodworkers in Egypt are trying to avoid the financial splinters of the economic downturn [Gallo]
The economy of hundreds of villages and towns that make up Damietta heavily depends on this craft. Workshops take up different parts of the process – from cutting wood, to carving fine details, and all the way up to polishing finished products. But with the global economic slowdown, carpenters and woodworkers, including the people of the village of Adliya, have been feeling the pinch.
"True, there has been a decline in wood prices, but no one is buying or selling our products," said 48-year-old Adel Abu Hussein, standing in front of his furniture store, which was packed with bedroom sets, but empty of any clients. "We used to sell up to 15 sets a month. But now, the last time a customer bought anything from me was three weeks ago."
Abu Hussein's business is not the only one suffering. Many woodworkers have had to shut down their workshops altogether. A walk around Adliya sets quite a grim picture: closed doors with rusty locks, carving tools set aside next to idle machines, carpenters sipping tea on coffee shops during working hours.
"What should we do? We no longer have cash?” said Gamal al Tahhan, who has been a carpenter since he was 10. "We got used to a certain standard of living, but now, we get no orders and when we do, it's at half the price. Should we steal or go into crime? How can we feed our kids?" said the father of two.
A major complaint among many carpenters has been that the wood imported to Egypt recently is of inferior quality. Due to the recession, importers have been pursuing more affordable wood, which has apparently meant compromising on quality. That has added to the woes of woodworkers who have been incurring extra cost, as they end up dumping most of the improperly processed wood they have been getting in the last few months.
It is not only that – due to the global downturn – furniture exports have declined, but so has local demand also. It is almost as if no one is getting married and no one is furnishing new homes anymore, one villager joked bitterly, pointing out that with 80 percent of Damietta's workforce dependent on the furniture industry, unemployment now has become rampant.
As a result, the general mood in Adliya and neighboring villages has been one of anger. Villagers explain that the work ethic of the people of Damietta makes it very difficult for them to accept the idea of sitting idle, which has prompted some woodworkers to spend more time on a piece these days, in fear of remaining inactive.
The situation has particularly been bleak the past four months, with several villagers telling this reporter, bills and debt have been piling up. Many have complained they are no longer able to pay rent for their workshops and apartments, let alone electricity bills or even school fees for their children.
"They keep saying Damietta is an industrial province, Damietta is the perfect place. They should come see what it’s like for us now," waiving his hands angrily, El Sayyed El Kharrat, a 38-year-old carpenter, said. "God only knows what would happen to this place if things keep going this way."