13 January 2009
For anyone who has visited Manila’s garbage dump, the first things that strike you are the stench and the flies – millions of flies. Then you notice the people – hundreds of them – crawling over the huge mountain of rubbish, collecting anything that could be sold for recycling. It’s not just the usual recycling items of paper, glass or aluminium cans, but also old tyres, wood and plastic bags. Anything made of metal such as bedsprings from old mattresses, and even discarded, worn out shoes become valuable for those who have none.
There are over 700 families surviving on this dump north of Manila, Philippines. Another 1,000 families live off the second dump at Payatas, east of the city. A whole family of parents and children can work all day, and the family will usually earn the equivalent of $1.50 a day for the material they gather and sell to recyclers.
As trucks of rubbish arrive and dump their load, young and old crawl over the rotting material, looking for anything of value. Other trucks arrive to take away the cans and bottles, separated into sizes, colours, glass and plastic, ready to be taken back to factories for reuse. Even old wood is buried under dirt and burnt so it becomes charcoal which can then be sold.
Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA has a small project with our partner, the Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD) trying to improve safety conditions for people, especially children, at the dumps. Medical waste, including needles and broken glass are the main problems, with any cuts quickly becoming infected. Hookworms are also a major problem, and the children are tested and treated when funds permit. The children are encouraged to use old discarded shoes, even if they don’t fit, as it is safer than bare feet. Other problems are diarrhoea and respiratory infections, especially TB.
The families have been organised and are helped to agitate for better government services. The nearest school is about two kilometres away and enrolment fees mean that only 30% attend primary school and just 3% begin their secondary school education. The nearest water pipe stops about one kilometre away, so children carry water into the dump to sell. Because of their campaigning, community leaders at the dump are considered to be “subversive” by the Arroyo government and military, and are constantly under military surveillance.
In the midst of our own “economic crisis”, it’s sobering to remember those for whom the word “crisis” truly applies.