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Selling Garbage to Live
  Written By: Abdul Rahim Al-Shwothabi (YEMEN POST STAFF)
  Article Date:
January 05, 2009



In nearly every city in Yemen, waste collectors can be seen collecting household waste from edges of streets, commercial and industrial waste from garbage containers, and litter from streets. These workers whether men, women, or children make a living collecting, sorting, recycling, and selling materials thrown away by others.

Najeeb Abdul Rageeb works in collecting plastic bottles and selling them to retailers. He complains that even though he has a job as a garbage man and has a limited salary that does not exceed YR 20,000 monthly, he is forced to search garbage and putting all things that could be sold aside, including plastics and wood.

In a country like Yemen, garbage men play an important role in the local economy in addition to their contribution to public health and sanitation.

Waste collecting is a source of income for poor people as it is estimated that nearly 30 percent of marginalized people (Akhdam) in Yemen earn a living through waste collection. However, a significant number of the collectors are women and in some cases children.

Companies benefit from such waste and reuse it instead of importing plastic for more expensive prices. Plastic Pipe Factory General Manager Imin Al-Thamari said that waste plastic materials contribute nearly 75 percent of his industry needs for producing electricity pipes. He added that factory owners buy plastic collected by garbage men at less than one-fifth the price it would sold for in the U.S.

Waste collection conserves natural resources and reduces air and water pollution. In many cities it saves large quantities of agricultural land from being exposed to waste materials. 

Despite the considerable economic and social benefits they produce, garbage men usually hurt themselves for the sake of the environment and society. They tend to have low social class and face public mock, and occasionally violence. "I can't marry the girl I love after their parents knew that I'm a waste collector" said 23 year old Nabeel Ali, who has been collecting waste for nearly four years.

Garbage men are also vulnerable to abuse by retailers who buy waste material from them before selling it to factories. Garbage men can receive as low as 50% of the price local industries pay for recyclable materials. They usually have low incomes, often live in shocking conditions lacking access to water, health, and education. Accordingly, garbage men face tremendous health and safety risks. 

High infant mortality rates and low life expectancies are common among garbage men. "Garbage men live for an average of 39 years. Garbage men' communities in Sana'a have an infant mortality rate of nearly one in three" said a waste collector Mohamed Gaid, who brought the number up from experience and what he sees around him from his friends who are also garbage men.

Dr Ahmed Al-Awadi a consultant in the Yemeni German Hospital mentions that garbage men are exposed to diseases transmitted by flies and mosquitoes including, back and limb pain, skin irritation, rashes, tuberculosis, bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, dysentery, and parasites.

From its part, the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation has given a report to the United Nation, explaining that the ministry regularly sprays pesticides to curb the spread of epidemic caused by flies and mosquitoes in garbage areas.    

When asked about garbage men' condition, Human Rights Minister Dr. Huda Al-Ban said that garbage men can raise their income, their social standing, and their self-esteem as they are Yemenis, but they need to stick together as one.

Waste collection is sought to be a way to improve living and social conditions for a large number of marginalized and disadvantaged groups who cannot find jobs and the average profit from waste selling is $50 a month, which is considered good side money in Yemen.