Steung Meanchey Municipal Waste Dump
They call it "Smokey Mountain": over 100 acres of mountainous trash where roughly 2,000 people -600 of whom are children -spend the greater part of their lives. On Tuesday, I took a brief ride on a moto to the edge of the city, crossed rivers of shit and dump runoff and saw a glimpse of the most horrible place I have ever been to in my life.
CCASVA (the NGO I'm working for for those who haven't been following) doesn't work at the Steung Meanchey Dump, but after asking them about it at our last staff meeting, they decided they would take us there to show us. I had read about it, but I was completely unprepared for what I would see. Where the Killing Fields and S-21 prison are a chilling glimpse of tradgedies past, the Steung Meanchey dump is a harsh sense of reality.
The first thing you notice is the smell. I could barely make out the towering hills of trash in the distance when I noticed the rank smell that saturated the air or the surrounding blocks. The road leading up to the dumps main entrance was litterally a river of dump runoff -it seemed to actually have a current. The rain from monsoon season and the natural decay of years old trash created a deep thick, gray-brown mess and the dump trucks that passed through it sunk up to the top of their wheel wells. As we carefully navigated our way into the dump, we saw children walk past us, wading in sludge up to their knees. At times we had to back up, run and jump between dry pieces of land to get into the actual dump itself, knowing that if we missed, we would end up lying in liquid trash.
The full impact of the scene didn't hit me until I was standing on a giant heap of trash, looking out around me at an endless stretch of garbage, where men, women, and children were diligently collecting plastic and other recyclible materials. The dump itself is actually constantly burning since the waste creates methane as it rots (hence the name "Smokey Mountain." I've been told that on average, an adult makes no more than a few thousand riels a day (about 75 cents.) -And yet, its the stories of the children that strik me the most. Most of them walk through the heaps of trash (which includes glass, used condoms and needles) with only flimsy sandals or no shoes at all -but the risk of HIV is hardly the end of their worries. Every year, several children are killed when they are run over by garbage trucks and bulldozers. Most of the time no on notices -they simply don't show up to meet their parents at the end of the day and die alone in an endless heap of trash.
I appologize for the dark sincerity of this post but it is something that I couldn't leave out. I'll be posting pictures of the dump on an album on my dotphoto site (site at the top of the page.)