Nov 202017
 
Dili, East Timor – Smouldering fires. Haphazard explosions. Malnourished children. The disintegration of law and order, and the absence of social services. In 1999, images such as these sparked widespread public anger around the world and the dispatch of an international peacekeeping force to East Timor after anarchy erupted following the country's independence referendum on leaving Indonesia. But nearly two decades after peace was restored in East Timor nothing much has changed at the Tibar landfill near the capital Dili, where rubbish scavengers as young as eight years old eek out a living in unimaginable conditions. The unregulated dumping ground for most of Dili's garbage – including lethal asbestos and untreated hospital waste – the seven-acre site set in the belly of a steep valley is an environmental and public health catastrophe. According to World Health Organization, "about 100 tonnes of hazardous wastes are produced every year in Dili from healthcare activities alone. As there is no centralised treatment or disposal facility available for such waste, they are quite often disposed [of] with municipal waste in Tibar". Smoke in your eyes The first thing that strikes visitors at the Tibar landfill are wafts of acrid black smoke released by fires set by scavengers to melt plastic from products such as washing machines and chairs that can then be sold as scrap metal. "The smoke really surprised me. It's surreal – a 24-seven smouldering heap," says Chris Kaley, a tourist from Australia who visited the landfill with Bruce Logan, the Australian co-owner of Dili's Beachside Hotel. "I come here once or twice a week to dump rubbish. I also bring any of our guests who are interested in seeing how the other half live," Logan says. "I call it the 'stop-your-winging tour' because coming here gives you a reality check about the trivial things people complain about in Australia." The moment Logan parks his utility vehicle, a group of 20-odd scavengers dressed in torn filthy rags raid the bags of rubbish stacked on his vehicle's tray. Among them is Domingos, a 61-year-old man working at the landfill for six months. "The valuable things are bottles and cans," he says. "If I collect a big pile of cans, I can sell it for $1." There are also a number of children in the group, including an eight-year-old girl named Vanya who lives just outside the dump. She says she has been working (more…)