Guatemala: Living in a Landfill

Life in the dump in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Photo courtesy

Find yourself wishing for a better life? Try imagining living a life in a dump. Thousands of Guatemalans are surviving off the massive, hazardous dump in Guatemala City every day. The following is an excerpt from the Council on Hemispheric Affairs:

The Guatemala City garbage dump, situated in a ravine, occupies 40 acres of land in the nation’s capital. Guatemala is the most populated nation in Central America, with more than 13 million residents. This landfill, one of the largest and most toxic in Central America, houses over a third of the country’s waste, including trash, recyclables, and discarded food items. There are few, if any, health and safety restrictions limiting the items that can be disposed of in the dump. Medical supplies, including used syringes, toxins emitted from discarded gas tanks, as well as other biohazardous materials contribute to the dangers of the landfill. Human and animal corpses deteriorate amid the waste, exacerbating already poor sanitation conditions.

The margins of the landfill are so heavily populated that they are considered a municipality of the city. Reportedly, 30,000 squatters reside along the perimeter of the garbage dump. It is permissible to erect temporary houses or structures bordering the landfill because the ravine and surrounding properties are public land open to all. Approximately 4,000 men, women, and children live within the squatting communities, scavenging in the dump for personal items, including that which can be used for housing and served up as food, as well as sought after for re-sale on the open market. Those who are unable to find space in the margins of the landfill are considered lucky if they can find a few square feet within its borders and among the fetid trash.

However, after methane gas emitted from the compost ignited a fire in 2005, the city decided to erect a wall encircling the ravine and imposed restrictions on entry into the dump. Other dangers threaten the safety of the workers in the dump, including landslides, which are prevalent during Guatemala’s annual rainy season. 8 adults and 2 children were killed in June 2008, after scavenging in a “high-risk” zone notorious for its landslides. Accidents from collisions with garbage trucks and injuries resulting from broken glass and other hazardous items have also often proved fatal. Following these tragic events, authorities distributed identification cards to those who were authorized to work in the landfill, imposed opening and closing times for the entrance gates, and prohibited any child from entering. While both necessary and beneficial, the restrictions displaced families residing in the garbage dump and left them with few choices as to where else one might live.

Ther is hope: Camino Seguro is one organization that’s committed to making a difference.

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One Response to “Guatemala: Living in a Landfill”

  1. sunaina says:

    i feel so pitty…this is the worse i have ever seen….i wish i got an oppurtunity to do some charity or help to the people of guate….

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