Haitians scour country’s largest trash dump

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – Changlair Aristide has made his living in a smoldering landscape, the stinking refuse of an impoverished land.

Like thousands of others, the father of nine survives by hunting for anything left of value in the Truitier landfill north of Cite Soleil, a notorious slum in Haiti’s capital.

Dump trucks roar 24 hours a day, leaving 100,000 tonnes of waste each month across 200 acres. Dark plumes of smoke fill the air as refuse is burned into ash. Violence flares as pickers fight for the most valuable hauls.

Desperation and misery dull any sense of optimism.

Aristide, 36, has been sorting through waste since 1994 and originally saw the work as a way to get rich in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation.

Changlair Aristide stands with his wife Violene Mareus and children outside their home near the Truitier landfill where Aristide scavenges for valuables to use or sell in the Cite Soleil slum of Port-au-Prince. – PHOTOS: AP
People wait for a truck to finish dumping its load at the Truitier landfill in the Cite Soleil slum

About 60 per cent of Haiti’s nearly 10.5 million people struggle to live on about USD2 a day or less, and a January report by the US Agency for International Development said about half the country is undernourished.

From his earnings at the dump, Aristide built a house made of corrugated steel just beyond the landfill’s edge, where he lives with his wife and three of his kids.

Each day, he rummages through the waste for hours, often working into the night to fill a bag with materials that he sells nearby.

“I’m looking for all kind of items to sell to take care of my family because I don’t want my children to follow me into this crappy job,” he said. “I’ve found good stuff in the trash like ham, cheese, milk, rice, bread and toys.”

He’s also found clothes, marijuana and a handgun, which he sold to support his family.

But the risk of falling ill is ever-present.

The landfill, home to about 500 families, is the centre of deadly cholera outbreaks when flat lands flood during the rainy season and become a breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes. Poisonous waste decomposes into the soil, seeping into nearby water sources.

“We don’t have a toilet here,” says Rene Phanor, a slum resident who also works for a local aid organisation.

He and others say pickers often suffer from chronic respiratory illnesses, headaches and infections contracted from used syringes.

“We are living in an inhumane situation,” Phanor said, adding that there is no health clinic in the landfill settlement.

Still, the pickers have carved out their own community, sharing downtime chatting with friends or playing football.

As the sun bore down on a recent day, vultures hovered overhead as cattle and goats fed on the trash. One picker rested on a giant sack of plastic bottles as the smell of feces filled the air. Others ran barefoot amid Styrofoam lunch containers and plastic bags.