More than two years after a tragedy at a garbage dump in Manila that took the lives of more than 230 Filipinos, many people living in and around the site still earn a living by scavenging there, a Japanese aid worker said Monday.

“It is quite difficult for them to get out from their reliance on picking and selling items from the dump site,” Yoko Ito told a gathering in Tokyo. “They do not have any other choice.”

For about five years, Ito has been providing medical and vocational training for residents of Manila’s Payatas district together with other members of the nonprofit organization Intercommunication Center for Asia and Nippon.

Ito was in Payatas at the time of the avalanche on July 10, 2000. The disaster occurred during the rainy season, when a mountain of rain-drenched waste collapsed onto neighboring shanties, burying hundreds of people.

The tragedy caught the world’s attention and donations to support the residents poured in from around the globe. But the attention did not last long, Ito said.

Many people in Japan offered donations to the NPO’s relief activities immediately after the disaster, but today it is difficult to draw attention to what has since happened to the people at the dump, she said.

There are about 10,000 people living adjacent to the Payatas dump, she said, and 2,000 to 3,000 of them engage in picking through the garbage to find materials that can be sold as recyclable goods, including aluminum, metal and plastic parts. The most they earn is about 500 yen a day.

Hygiene is a major problem, Ito said, because the people are exposed to the continual smoldering of rotten garbage and other dangers, such as broken glass.

The best way to free the people there from such an existence is to provide better education and vocational training to give them a chance to find other jobs, she said, but this won’t be easy because they are too busy picking through the trash to earn their next meal to spend time on education or training.

“We are planning to provide programs to make them self-reliant,” she said, adding that the volunteer group is trying to raise public awareness in Japan about the situation in Payatas.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.