Scavengers clog garbage disposal at Gaza landfill

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Scavengers and garbage truck drivers at the Juhr al-Dik landfill, southeast of Gaza City, resumed their work on February 5 despite the large number of scavengers on site .

The Gaza Municipality had announced on February 1 that the spread of scavengers at the dump forced workers to suspend work for a few days, refraining from collecting garbage from the streets.

On January 22, government medical sources announced that they had received the body of a 14-year-old boy, later identified as Osama Sarsak, which was found at the Juhr al-Dik dumpsite. According to a forensic report, Sarsak died of suffocation.

Fingers of blame have been pointed at the garbage truck drivers. According to the victim’s father, his son was helping him pick up scrap metal at the dump when he disappeared. After hours of searching, the teenager was found dead inside the landfill.

Human rights centers have called on authorities to open an investigation into the incident.

Due to the difficult economic situation in the Gaza Strip, garbage collectors search the piles of trash for materials that can be recycled and sold, such as pieces of plastic, metal, copper and aluminum.

A scavenger, who declined to be named, told Al-Monitor: “After the incident [of the dead teenager], the municipality forbade us to enter the landfill through its main entrance. Now we have to jump over the walls which is risky for us.

“I need money, so I go there looking for copper, plastic and iron coins. I earn around $10 a day selling scrap metal,” he said, adding that he was an automotive engineering student at the Palestine Technical College in Gaza.

He noted that he had been going to the landfill for more than 10 years and had never been exposed to any health or environmental hazards. He said other scavengers were looking for food scraps among the trash.

“We struggled when the garbage trucks stopped coming for a few days. Garbage is our only source of life. It was a good thing the truck driver had a change of heart and got back to work so we could get back to what we’re doing as well,” he said.

Mohammad Jundiya, 23, told Al-Monitor he had been coming to the site with his family since he was just seven years old.

“I support my family thanks to my work at the landfill. I earn between $9 and $12 a day,” Jundiya told Al-Monitor. “I get here at 5 a.m. before the garbage trucks, and I leave at 5 p.m. They stop working at 3 p.m.,” he said, noting that the news of the deceased teenager had him deeply affected.

He noted, “We called on our colleagues to stop bringing their young children with them. We don’t want such accidents to happen again. »

Jundiya added: “When the police came to arrest us a few days ago for obstructing the work of garbage truck drivers, we had to run towards the Israeli border, shirtless and holding white flags, so as not to not be arrested. Some of my friends have been arrested by the [Gaza police] and others were beaten up.”

“I prefer to flee to Israel and not be beaten or arrested here. We don’t want anything from the municipality, just let us be here and work,” he said, noting that working in a landfill is extremely dangerous, with many garbage collectors injured, but they keep coming back to support the needs of their families.

One of the merchants who buy scrap metal from scavengers was also on hand at the time of Al-Monitor’s visit.

“I have a master’s degree in literary criticism from Ain Shams University and graduated in 2013. I couldn’t find a job. Now I am selling scrap,” he told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “I buy scrap metal and plastic as well as batteries and damaged household utensils from garbage collectors and resell them,” noting that iron is sold to pressers and plastic to factories for recycling.

Hosni Mhanna, director of public relations for the Gaza municipality, told Al-Monitor that truckers had complained that scavengers stood in their way at the dump and clung to the trucks, which put their lives at risk. danger.

“They fear more deaths will occur,” he said. “After the teenager’s death, the police were everywhere at the dump, which kept the scavengers at bay. After the investigations were completed, they returned in large numbers, which hampered the work of the drivers who tried to talk to them to make room. They have even approached the security forces, but their intervention is temporary and not up to the task.”

“When the security forces show up at the dump, you see scavengers running towards the Israeli border or hiding in nearby farmland. As soon as the security forces leave the place, they come back and things return to normal,” he added.

Mhanna explained that the landfill receives around 1,200 tonnes of waste per day from three governorates – the northern Gaza, Deir al-Balah and Gaza governorates – noting that the municipality sympathizes with scavengers which number no more than 200. people, but raises health and environmental concerns .

“The dumps are a very dangerous place,” Mhanna said, noting that the dump is close to the border area and is targeted by the Israeli army from time to time.

“They [Israelis] sometimes throw bombs, causing fires that spread over large areas,” he said.

“The municipality has proposed a plan to accommodate waste pickers and invest in the process of sorting waste in an orderly and not random way in different neighborhoods and away from the border dump,” he added, pointing out that this plan needs support from donors.

He said: “Trash sorting would cost around $30 million, not including the waste disposal process, which can take up to 12 hours.”

The municipality has tried to raise awareness about the dangers of rummaging through rubbish, but the garbage collectors have ignored it as they have no other source of income, Mhanna concluded.

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