"People literally don't have a place to put their garbage..."
In the slum communities of Mumbai where Tearfund’s partner Saahasee works, rubbish is a huge problem. It’s a hilly area with narrow streets, which makes access difficult for garbage collection vans … so rubbish simply doesn’t get collected. Many people opt to burn their rubbish: this is now illegal in India, but without many other alternatives, they have no choice but to do it.
Rubbish also gets dumped in drains which carry stormwater and wastewater, causing polluted water to overflow into streets and sometimes houses, with serious consequences for people’s health.
“It’s become normal practice to put plastic waste in the drains,” says Poonam Nair, Saahasee’s Director of Projects. “The ramification is that most of the time these drains are blocked.”
Not only are children playing in streets with overflowing drains, but rubbish also gets dumped in areas that are meant for children’s play. “Now our playground has become a dumping ground,” says Poonam. “People don’t have anywhere to dump waste, so they are using those places … and now children don’t have a place to play. They want to play, they need to play.”
Poonam says the problem is only getting worse. “Because people are moving from rural areas towards the city in search of work, the population is increasing every month, so plastic pollution is also increasing. The waste that collects all over the community is impacting health.”
For these communities, dealing with rubbish is yet another strain on top of the daily challenge of getting by.
“People literally don’t have a place to put their garbage … but it’s become a secondary thing. They are struggling from day to night to get food on their table. Survival, existence, is the biggest challenge for them every day.”
The communities Saahasee works with are among those at the frontline of the plastic pollution crisis. They’re confronted daily with the challenge of dealing with their own rubbish, as well as the health impacts of the world’s rubbish problem.
Poonam Nair has a message for the world’s leaders about the need to take action on plastic pollution. She says so many decisions are motivated by “greed and profit”. Instead, they need to be made “on the basis of humanity”.
“We must take responsibility to protect the God-created earth, and develop policies to preserve it,” she says.