September 11, 2016
LUSAKA, ZAMBIA — The sound of garbage trucks attracts the attention of the people, mostly women and children, who rummage through the trash at a landfill in the Chunga neighborhood in this capital city.
The group rushes toward the truck to search for the valuables they hope it holds.
There is a terrible stench. Flies buzz and smoke and dust billow around the site, but the scavengers still rummage through the trash, most of them with bare hands.
Jacqueline Mwamba, 56, says she’s scavenged the site for cushions for more than three years. She fills at least 50 kilogram (110 pounds) bags with cushions every day, which she sells for 35 kwacha ($3.61) each to carpenters who build couches.
“I earn my living here,” Mwamba says.
More than 100 people earn their keep at this dump site by collecting cushions, plastic containers, bottles and other items they can sell to recyclers or other people who need the goods. They say poverty pushed them into this work, since it doesn’t require any initial investment.
Lusaka city officials say it’s illegal to scavenge at dump sites and note that the work poses a health hazard for the people who do it. Trash from all around the city, including medical waste, is dumped at the site in Chunga.
The city has sealed off the site many times, but the trash collectors break through the barriers, says Brenda Katongola, the assistant public relations manager for the Lusaka City Council. Now, she says, the council plans to build a wall around the site.
But the trash collectors say that plan will leave them destitute.
“My brother and I have food on the table because of this dumpsite,” says Alex Zulu, a 17-year-old orphan. “I don’t how we could survive without it.”
Mwamba says she doesn’t understand why the council wants to keep people out of the dumpsite. She says she’s never gotten sick from working in the dump.
“Chasing us from here is as good as killing us,” she says.
Prudence Phiri, GPJ, translated some interviews from Nyanja.