When poverty strikes, the dumping site comes to the rescue

FRANCISTOWN: Conditions at litter dumping sites in general are hair-raising to say the least.

They exhibit dirt and a smell that defeats the senses of smell, yet poverty stricken people are a common sight at these landfills, scavenging to fill their stomachs with any rotten edibles. The Francistown dumping site or commonly the landfill depicts many pictures of what poverty can transform one into. The landfill is located on the eastern side of the city along the road leading to the Ramokgwebana border. Just as one hits the right turn, the stinking smell fills the air, threatening to suffocate the traveller.

The landfill has anything one can think of, including rotten foodstuffs and fruits, stinking rotten meat and dead animals, especially dogs with huge worms feasting on them. Strolling and feasting on the rotten meat also, would be a swarm of vultures. Despite its sordid state, people spend the whole day there, some as per their jobs whilst others come here habitually driven by poverty to look for something to eat. People of all ages and ethnicity can be found at this dumping site. They narrated how living conditions compelled them to come and make a living at the site. Some recycle cans, some plastic bottles just to make a living. Some of these people are employees of private litter recycling companies who are hired to collect items like beer cans and plastic bottles for their employers. There are also some people who illegally access this place just to get something to eat.

A woman, who works at the pit, found filling cans in a huge sack, narrated the hardships, which forced her to find solace in the landfill.Describing the place as 'dangerous', she said that they are exposed to many diseases in the place. "Working here is jeopardy, the smell is unbearable. We are provided with gloves, boots and sanitary masks, but it is not enough because the smell still affects us. It is impossible to keep our mouths and noses covered all day, so we have no choice but to expose ourselves to risks," she said.

The woman said that she came to work here after poverty and hunger took over her life, saying that she was prompted into doing anything to support her children. Pointing to the western side of the yard, she said, "People jump the fence from that side, they come here in search of perished foods that are dumped here. They even know BMC trucks which dispose of meaty garbage and they are always here on time for them,"

Further the woman revealed that the thief paupers used to threaten them, especially the Zimbabwean nationals, to prevent them calling the security, at times demanding to be shown where food is. Another source, who preferred to talk on condition of anonymity, stated that she comes to the dumping site at 8am until 4pm everyday. "I come here to pick bottles for recycling. I sell them for 30 thebe per kg. On average, I can make between P1,000 and P1,200 per month. The refuse dumped here is from homes, industries and other business establishments. They also dump dead animals on this site. I do not think that they pose any serious threat to us because they then mix all the refuse with soil using their machines. The smell is not a problem for us because we are used to it," she explained.

However, Christina Matshela, 61, collects tins at the dumping site to sell at the Breweries. "I make between P500 and P600 per month. We bring our own food for lunch here. The flies and smell is no problem because we are used to it. I live in Satellite location. We work well here because we are under the supervision of the Francistown City Council (FCC)," said Matshela.

Meanwhile, Thamani Willson, 42, came to the dumping site because of unemployment. "The place is filthy and risky to our lives. Even though we are in danger, we have no choice because we have to make a living. On average, I make P250 per month," said Willson.  Another litter collector Chandapiwa Ndolo revealed that she was employed by a private litter collecting company to work at the dumping site ever since 2003. The young woman mentioned that her job entails collecting aluminum cans and plastic bottles for recycling.

She said that the first time she arrived at the dumping pit, she never thought she would survive, but adapted because she was a pauper who was desperate to make ends meet. "This place, however, is not a healthy place to be, we are exposed to all forms of dangers in this garbage. Although we get safety gloves, sanitary masks and boots, we cannot spend the whole day putting them on; so we would rather choose not to use them," said Ndolo who at the time had neither a sanitary mask or glove yet she was immersed in the stinking garbage, making her living.

On the whole, the Infection Control Nurse at Nyangabgwe Referral Hospital, Wazha Hlabano stated that the people who work at the refuse dumping site put their lives in danger. "The thing is that when you eat dirt, you can have diarrhoea, your immune system starts to weaken. One is also exposed to hazardous materials," said Hlabano.

She said that there are materials like car batteries dumped there containing acids, further she said the battery acid contains lead, which is poisonous to man's immune system

"At the landfill, there are two types of workers; trained specialists working for the council who know how to protect themselves. Others just come into the area without permission. Some of them work for private companies, while others work for themselves but these are the people whose lives are mostly in danger. For instance, if they eat rotten food, they are exposed to food poisoning. They can also vomit and at times they may lose their lives depending on the complexity of the issue," she said. 

Lorato Charlie, an Environment Health Technician at Nyangabgwe Referral Hospital said that working in a dirty environment is dangerous. "Dirty environments exposes you to sicknesses such as malaria, diarrhoea, cholera and many serious diseases. If a person is infected with these diseases and no intervention is done then the possibility of death becomes higher," said Charlie.

Charlie said that all the domestic and clinical wastes are dumped at the Francistown dumping site. "Our hazardous waste is burned here in the hospital, we then throw it at the dumping site where we bury it under ground. So really we say that people working there unauthorised, must stop it because it is a threat to their lives. We do not want them in there, it is not good and they must not be allowed there," concluded Charlie.

Meanwhile, Francistown City Council (FCC) deputy city clerk, Geoffrey Gare stated that there are two types of employees at the landfill, those operating the landfill and those hired by recycling companies: "Those employed by the council are responsible for the day to day running of the landfill and those hired by recycling companies are responsible for collecting recyclables from the waste. There are known health hazardous diseases associated with waste management such dermatitis and other infectious diseases such as hepatitis B."

However, Gare stated that there are some measures taken to ensure workers' health. "We give them personal protective equipment to protect them from health hazards. There is also a periodic health surveillance to ensure that the workers have not acquired conditions associated with the work environment.  We also ensure good personal hygiene to prevent ill health," said Gare. He also said that there is education about risks involved through proper information, instruction and supervision. She added that they also have immunisation for hepatitis A, B   and tetanus.

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