Photo by Micah Albert
By Micah Albert
Kenya’s Dandora Municipal Dump Site is the only dumping location for waste in Nairobi, East Africa’s most populous city, and serves as a provocative starting point for understanding the growing health, poverty and sanitation problems facing the rapidly expanding capital and region.
Located about 2.5 miles from the central business district, the 30-acre wasteland literally spills into the households of nearly 1 million people living in nearby slums. Through a narrative of survival amid tragic health and environmental consequences, these photos explore a marginalized population long overshadowed by an industrializing city’s expansion.
Behind the statistics of children with respiratory ailments, toxic blood lead levels, skin disorders and fatal diseases directly attributed to the waste, are stories of communities that have grown to depend on the dump. Street children live off the money they make selling food, candy and other items they find in its piles and thousands others are paid pennies a day by private cartels to sort and recycle the waste.
The country’s leadership has long shown alarming indifference to Dandora, ignoring environmental laws, U.N.-commissioned health studies and calls for closure from human rights groups. Nairobi city council members recognize the problems, but in the same breath blame the megapolis’s rapid population growth – the city has grown from 827,775 in 1979 to 3.2 million today – and the city’s overwhelmed bureaucracy for their slowness to act on Dandora.
A city council member says the city is prepared to decommission and relocate the site, but that it is waiting for the final go-ahead from the new dumpsite’s projected neighbor: the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Airport officials fear the new site will attract birds that will interfere with air traffic. So the plan remains on hold.
But on the other side, the trash pickers worry that their needs and livelihoods aren’t being fully considered. They are fully aware that Dandora is not good for their health, but a slow death is better than no life at all.
About the author: Micah Albert is an Apolis Advocate and regular contributor to the Apolis Journal. Since 2006, Micah has traveled to over 60 countries, 25 refugee camps, six conflict zones, four rebel-controlled territories, and has worked on over 75 reportage stories. His photographs have appeared in publications worldwide including The New York Times, Time, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, National Geographic, and BBC News. This project in Dandora, Kenya was made possible by a grant through the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.