A man with a sack slung over his shoulder trudges up a mountain of rotting rubbish, where Marabou storks perch like mournful sentinels. In the valley below, a woman pulls a jacket from the rubbish and holds it up, appraising it with a critical eye.
At Nairobi’s Dandora rubbish dump, the working day is in full swing. Men and women pick through a newly arrived truck, looking for plastic, food, clothes, paper and bottles – anything they can sell on or take home to use.
Robert Ondika, 27, straightens from sifting through the rubbish with an iron hook. He has been working in Dandora, one of Africa‘s largest rubbish dumps, for three years and earns between 50 and 500 Kenyan shillings a day (between $0.60 and $6). “We come here to earn our daily bread,” he says in Kiswahili. “Here, we touch different things, we could step on something sharp. It is only God who is helping us here.”
For these foot soldiers in Nairobi’s unregulated rubbish business, the work is perilous and the rewards paltry, to say nothing of the discomfort of spending the day in a smoky, stinking wasteland. But for those who live in the neighbourhoods around the dump, it offers survival.
That is Dandora’s paradox – it is source of life, but also of illness and, occasionally, death. In a report released on Tuesday, Concern Worldwide, Italian development group Cesvi and church group Exodus Kutoka say the dump is “one of the most flagrant violations of human rights” in Kenya.
The report says the city council of Nairobi, local government departments and the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) bear legal responsibility for the hazardous living conditions in the slums nearby.
The dump, which lies 8km (5 miles) from the city centre, was declared full in 2001, and since then campaigners, including Concern, have sought to have it decommissioned.Trash
The report, Trash and Tragedy: The Impact of Garbage on Human Rights in Nairobi City, says the rubbish had polluted the soil, water and air, affecting more than 200,000 people, including up to 10,000 who spend the day seeking treasure from it.
Most of them do not wear gloves or masks and many suffer from respiratory ailments, like asthma. Other conditions that have affected workers include anaemia, kidney problems, cancer and frequent miscarriages.
A 2007 study by the United Nations Environment Programme found that at least half the children in surrounding neighbourhoods had heavy metal concentrations in their blood that exceed the minimum level set by the World Health Organisation. Some estimates say around half the workers on the dump are under 18.
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