New Delhi, India – Delhi has been in the news for its “toxic” pollution, but the Indian capital has also been struggling to deal with another crisis – what to do with its rubbish.
Mountains of waste are dumped in open spaces where children can often be seen picking through the sometimes toxic material.
With Delhi’s population more than doubling since 1990, the city’s waste management infrastructure has been stretched beyond its limit. Every day Delhi produces around 10,000 metric tonnes of solid waste – roughly the weight of the Eiffel Tower. Official estimates predict that in five years the waste produced by the city will almost double to 18,000 tonnes a day.
Recently, India’s Supreme Court, angered by the apparent inaction on the issue, delivered a damning criticism of the city’s municipalities, saying that if Delhi’s waste was not managed properly the city faced an impending disaster.
Dozens of children, some as young as five, work alongside adults or in small groups with other children in northwest Delhi’s Bhalswa – one of three landfill sites in the city.
Although child labour is outlawed in India, UNICEF estimates that there are about 10.2 million children currently working in the country.
“On paper, these landfills are meant to be ‘sanitary’ landfills. But in reality, no precautions are taken. There’s no scientific process or segregation process. Almost 90 percent of the budget of the [Delhi] municipalities is spent on transporting waste, rather than managing waste,” said Vimlendu Jha, the executive director of Swechha, a Delhi-based NGO campaigning for social action on environmental issues.
“These are faceless, nameless individuals.”
The New Delhi Municipal Council, which manages Delhi’s waste, declined to comment on child labour at the landfill sites.