Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Payatas Tragedy, A Grim Reminder of Mis-Development

Notes From our Documentary, Payatas a Mirror of Poverty

During the early morning of July 10, 2000, after several days of rain, a 50 ft. wall of garbage collapsed on the shanties immediately adjacent to the dump. To this day, there is no firm headcount of lives that were needlessly lost.

The tragedy in Payatas could have been prevented had the authorities learned its lessons on mis-developing and mismanaging another infamous dumpsite the Smokey Mountain. The closure of the Smokey Mountain in 1990 didn’t answer the core problem of unsustainable solid waste management in Metro Manila. The government’s response to closing the Smokey Mountain just lead to the opening of similarly untenable dumpsites such as Payatas, Montalban, Tanza, Navotas and Pier 18. All these dumpsites have immediate communities that are directly affected by the environmental hazards posed by the tons of garbage being dumped on a daily basis. These solid wastes are largely unsorted. Thus, the huge amount of mixed solid wastes that over a period of time combined with the hot temperatures could ignite into hazardous fires that have caused lives in Smokey Mountain and Payatas. To this day, despite the closure of both the Smokey Mountain and Payatas, the mountains of garbage still pose danger to the communities that surround these dumpsites.

Gleaning through the timeline of the opening, closure and re-opening of new dumpsites have the government and the people learned any lessons from the tragedies of Payatas and Smokey Mountain? Has there been an in-depth analysis of the whole situation to determine what the CORE problem is, and how to resolve these problems once and for all? While several non-profit organizations have attempted to do this while organizing these dumpsite communities, none so far have come up with a long term and sustainable program, addressing the real source and root of a stream of mis-development initiatives. You simply cannot put a band-aid to cure cancer.

Going back to the source, what is the cause of all these? Just before the Payatas tragedy occurred in July 20, 2000, we had been doing a film documentary project on the rural development efforts of several non-profit organizations. We were documenting how these projects directly respond to the problems of the influx of internal migrants from the twenty-two poorest provinces in the Philippines into already congested city centers like Manila, Cebu and Davao. When we interviewed several family members of scavengers on the hilltops of Payatas, their response was in unison: they went to Manila in search of jobs. They relate how there is no or almost no source of income in the provinces where they came from. They recall how the seasonal income they derive from rice or coconut farming barely pay for previous family debts they have accumulated over the years as tenant farmers, or let alone sustain them for at least another six months. In comparison, while they struggle to survive in dumpsites like Payatas, they at least earn enough to sustain their basic needs on a daily basis. On a good day, a family of six working together can earn as much as $10. A good day is when more than 1,000 trucks arrive to dump about 2 to 3 tons of garbage. $10 is more than what a minimum wage earner makes which is P250.00. $10 is almost twice that much converted to local currency.

On the macro level, looking at the steady stream of people trying to get into city centers like Manila, how can this be abated or even prevented? Not wanting to be simplistic about it, but just pointing to a possibly direct answer, we were looking at rural development projects that actually tried to generate jobs in the countryside by starting cottage industries and re-educating farmers and fisher folks into sustainable farming and fishing methods. These alternative approaches to farming and fishing involve not just the actual people who do the farming and fishing but the whole community and its environs.

Meanwhile, what about the problem of solid waste management in the city centers like Manila? Several initiatives had been started right after the Payatas tragedy but it needed consistency and continuity. One such initiative is the recycling and zero-waste education program started by the Culinary Education Foundation (CEF), the social arm of the Cravings Group of Companies. The program is simple in that it promotes zero-waste lifestyle not only as a way of life but also to boost income and aid in the livelihood of people. Other similar projects have started with home owners’ associations across the 20+ suburbs of Metro Manila.

This being said, if government authorities and private associations work together towards a common goal of zero waste, instead of pointing a finger who to blame for what, then a more viable resolution is possible. Moreover, a master development plan for both urban and rural centers should be drafted based from existing researches that has been concluded after the Payatas tragedy. An integrated urban and rural development plan that would resolve the intertwining problems of rural and urban poverty, joblessness, lack of basic social and business infrastructures in the rural areas and mass awareness of the positive impact of zero waste management can be a good start. Sounds complex but with the galvanized resolve and unified will of the Filipino citizenry, it can be done.

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