For those of us that play out our lives in first world paradise, it’s one of those images that is difficult to accept – a child, seemingly lost within an ocean of filth and waste that stretches beyond the horizon in every direction. But this child is not alone, not within their country, nor within that ocean in which their feet are submerged. And we’ve all seen the image. Throughout Africa, thousands of people are simultaneously living and surrendering their lives in rubbish dumps that, through the hybridity of 21st century existence, have doubled up as homes.
The Dandora waste dump in Nairobi is perhaps the most documented example of such sites worldwide. Placing the continuous wrangling of Kenyan politicians to one side for now, the site unsurprisingly contains levels of hazardous pollutants that the average NIMBYist European city dweller would find incomprehensible.
Trash and Tragedy
Last year, a study entitled ‘Trash and Tragedy: The Impact of Garbage on Human Rights in Nairobi City’ found that 850 tonnes of waste were being added to the Dandora site daily, which in turn, affects more than 200,000 people in the surrounding area. Although under international environmental law the site should have been closed 23 years ago, 10,000 people continue to scour this terrain on a daily basis in search of lucrative ‘treasure’. Most have no alternative, and when $2 profit is considered a good day, most don’t consider wearing any protective clothing to prevent the onset of respiratory diseases, cancer or skin disorders.
UN Environmental Programme
The largest report to be commissioned on Dandora in the last decade, undertaken by the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) some six years ago, found that almost half of the children examined in Dandora were suffering from chronic respiratory diseases such as bronchitis and asthma due to unrelenting levels of toxic pollutants in their everyday environment. Following the publishing of these findings, Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, aptly stated:
"We had anticipated some tough and worrisome findings, but the actual results are even more shocking than we had imagined at the outset. The Dandora site may pose some special challenges for the city of Nairobi and Kenya as a nation. But it is also a mirror to the condition of rubbish sites across many parts of Africa and other urban centres of the developing world."
Therein lies the bigger picture: an example of inescapable hardship and struggle that doesn’t stop at the people living in and around the 30 acres of Dandora, or even the country of Kenya. Across the African continent and the rest of the world people are suffering in the same way, paradoxically clinging to rubbish dumps as a source of life and a cause of death.
For a photographic overview of life on Dandora, I suggest the BBC’s ‘In Pictures’ gallery, found here - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-18101593
The views expressed here are independent and do not necessarily represent those of the staff or directors of EAF.