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Trash slides a daily risk for scavengers

Jakarta Post - September 12, 2006

Rusman, Bekasi – It was almost midnight on Thursday when people living around the Bantar Gebang dump in Bekasi were woken by a loud roar – a mountain of trash collapsing.

Cries for help could be heard from the dump. A truck skidded on garbage from the slide and crashed into a house and one of the dump's walls, which collapsed. Dozens of scavengers searched through the rubbish, this time not looking for things to sell, but for their friends.

Residents of the Sumur Batu, Ciketing Udik and Cikuwul subdistricts, which border the dump, also helped in the hunt for survivors in the dump's Zone 3, the headlights of nearby trucks providing the only illumination.

At 1 a.m. on Friday, two bodies were found, covered in mud and trash. "I saw one of the victims had been dragged along by the truck, because they had been standing right next to it," said Supriyadi, 30. Three people who worked as scavengers died in the incident, while five others were injured.

Marsinah, 40, who was five months pregnant died, along with 17-year-old Miswan, both from Karawang in Bekasi. Nursonip, from Cirebon in West Java and 35 years old, was also killed.

Adi, Noto, Tono and Samudi were all injured in the accident and recovered at Bekasi Hospital. The fifth injured scavenger, Yana, has been transferred to Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital in Jakarta.

Most of Jakarta's garbage is sent to Bantar Gebang dump, which is located about 11 kilometers away from the city of Bekasi. Around 600 trucks work around the clock to deliver about 6,000 tons of trash every day. The dump is divided into five zones, and the trash can reach up to 15 meters in height.

Zone 3, where the trash slide took place, is about 500 meters from the entrance gate. Scavengers' shanties sit amid the piles of trash, and the sight of people sitting in waste water from garbage trucks is a common one.

Food kiosks stand along the side of the road that runs through the dump, selling coffee, snacks and meals just meters from rotting trash.

"This is to fulfill our daily meal needs. The place doesn't matter. For scavengers it's usual to eat surrounded by the smell of garbage," said kiosk operator Maemunah, 32.

Dozens of tents are set up in the dump. When the slide happened, they were dragged for about five meters.

"The slide was so strong. Everybody was dragged. The ones who died were asleep. Other people were dragged too, but they weren't buried in the trash so they could be rescued immediately," Maemunah said.

Mochamad Helmy of the Environment Ministry said the dump's condition meant it was prone to slides, particularly in Zone 3. He said he believed the operator was not using a sanitary landfill system as it claimed to but was instead practicing an open dumping system, and that Zone 3 had been filled beyond its capacity.

The maximum height for trash piles is 15 meters, he said, but the trash in zone reached 20 meters in some places. "So it's over its capacity and very prone to slides," he said.

The scavengers, however, are not about to leave the area. "Where would we find another job? Going back to our home towns is not at option because we don't have anything to do there and there's no land to work on," Supriyadi said.

He was almost killed in the incident as he was one of about 50 workers picking through the garbage when it happened. "Trash slides have always been a risk," he said.