Sunday, April 22, 2012

Apt for Earth Day: how the poor have to live off the garbage!

So, first it was Foreign Policy with this photo essay on the rag pickers of Dandora, in Nairobi, which is the focus of this piece where the author notes:
Dandora is a symbol of a larger problem: Even as Kenya touts continued economic growth and cultural influence -- including proudly hosting the Nairobi Securities Exchange, the financial hub of east and central Africa, and regional headquarters for the likes of General Electric, Google, Coca-Cola, the United Nations Environmental Program, and U.N.-Habitat -- its poorest citizens have been left behind by their country's rise.

A new constitution, accelerated advances in information and communications technology, East African Community integration, and the discovery of oil have many optimistic that Kenya will continue to be the regional powerhouse economy. Nearly two thirds of Nairobi's population, though, will continue to live in the city's slums.
How tough it is for the typical person working through all that trash for a livelihood? A 42-year old mother of six says:
Working here is how I am able to feed my children. Of course it is not a usual job. Dodging pigs, used condoms, eating what I find; no, it's not good for me. But it is a job and I have to persevere.
Of course, Dandora is not unique at all.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of such places all over the world, including India, which is the focus of this LA Times report:
The children didn't notice the ravens and occasional vulture circling overhead, or the stream of black ooze that flowed nearby, or the inescapable stench of decay. They were squealing over a 4-cent ride on a small, hand-powered Ferris wheel.

The kids are growing up in New Delhi's 70-acre Ghazipur landfill, a post-apocalyptic world where hundreds of pickers climb a 100-foot-high trash pile daily, dodging and occasionally dying beneath belching bulldozers that reshape the putrid landscape.

On "trash mountain," families earn $1 to $2 a day slogging through waist-deep muck. But the residents also marry, have children on their dirt floors, pray and celebrate life's other milestones.
As I noted in this blog post, I had observed similar rag-picking everywhere in the city.  It is a tough life, as the LA Times report adds:
Pickers complain that even now they can't keep pace with rising food costs.

"I manage to make enough to feed us," said Habibullah, as a small boy walked by naked except for flip-flops. "But I can never get ahead."

The more ambitious are no longer content to wait for belching garbage trucks, so they head into neighborhoods to get higher-quality waste from residents, earning more money.
Every once in a while, when such discussions come up in classes, the wide-eyed idealistic youth find such happenings intolerable.  They want to get rid of all these.  I then ask them what alternatives might exist for the poor?  Then they begin to wonder.  I then further drive home the point with the following video commentary from Nicholas Kristof:

We have no idea how phenomenal life is when we do not have to struggle for existence that way, and we rarely pause to thank for the life we have.

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