Sunday, June 12, 2011

Living in a dump site

Many Third-World cities do not manage waste and refuse properly --they are just dumped in large stretches of land in the outskirts of the city. Very often, these waste-disposal sites containing urban refuse, industrial residues and debris from buildings are not prepared to manage so many tonnes of residues every day. Waste piles up, methane and other decomposition gases are released into the atmosphere in grey clouds visible from miles away, and sewage and toxic fluids from the industries are leaked into nearby rivers, lakes and aquifers, which get fully contaminated. When nearby towns grow, these dumping sites are swallowed up and become another suburb of the town. And, as expected, the poorest people among the poor end up living and working there. Landfills like Jardim Gramacho in Rio de Janeiro, Bantar Gebang in Indonesia or La Chureca in Acahualinca, a suburb of Managua, are just examples of dump sites turned into neighbourhoods.
In La Chureca, for instance, which is the largest landfill of Central America, there are 2,000 tin and cardboard houses built on the refuse. They have no running water, electricity or basic services. La Chureca inhabitants live in and from the landfill because they spend the whole day rummaging through the waste to find something to sell or something to eat: 70% of its population works in garbage collection, including children. The lack of education and the lack of future prospects trigger a high consumption of alcohol and drugs among young children and teenagers. The situation is dramatic.
When mass media report images of extreme poverty like in La Chureca, we often feel that we cannot do anything to solve it, we cannot end up with poverty because it is too widespread and all the resources in the world would not be enough. But needless to say, this is not true: there are enough resources and we only need political will to change things.
For instance, the Spanish Agency of International Cooperation approved a project to solve La Chureca problems in 2008. It is an international cooperation project in which the Spanish government vested more money: 30 million euros. The outcome: in 2012 the current landfill will be sealed, a new controlled dump site will be built, including a modern residue treatment plant (which will grant stable, decent job posts to the neighbours) and 260 subsidized houses will replace the current tin shacks.
You may think that this is only an isolated project among many others, and you may object that the costs are high. But, as always, this perception depends on our priorities: the Spanish army pays 517 million euros for each frigate F100, which is the budget to reform 17 dump sites like the one in La Chureca. With these figures in mind, now it is neither expensive not difficult to solve this problem, isn’t it?


  1. Dump site Jardim Gramacho in Rio de Janeiro:
  2. Dump site Bantar Gebang in Indonesia:
  3. Dump site La Chureca in Nicaragua:
  4. Aerial view of La Chureca landfill:,-43.259438&sspn=0.101026,0.220757&ie=UTF8&ll=12.163359,-86.314709&spn=0.006691,0.021973&t=h&z=16
  5. The project of the Spanish Agency of International Cooperation:
  6. How much is a frigate F100:


  1. Unofficial dump sites are often a common problem in third-world countries that leads to sickness and ecological degradation. First world companies that provide environmental services can help if the government allows it and provide them with an equal and fair deal.

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