Amid the waist-deep muck and the unbearable stench at Delhi’s 70-acre Ghazipur landfill, there is a disaster waiting to happen. The waste gathered at the bottom of the pile generates methane, which is highly flammable.
Hundreds of ragpickers dodge death while collecting waste at the 70-acre Ghazipur landfill.
Mindful of the danger, scantily clad ragpickers take each step carefully on the garbage pile. One wrong step can release the gas from the waste, which then catches fire instantly.
The landfill seems to be a Deonar in the making. A massive fire engulfed the Mumbai landfill on March 20.
Each day, hundreds of ragpickers at Ghazipur dodge death while collecting collect bottles, cans and paper for their livelihood.
Thirteen-year-old Immanat has been collecting trash for five years. Two years ago, he was in the middle of a fire, while he was collecting bottles and metal from the 100-foot-high garbage pile. “It seemed like the earth was melting. That was my first experience of a landfill fire. Now I am used to it. The trash bubbles up like a volcano and suddenly blows up into a fire. Many people here have burnt themselves. No matter how careful you are, you can never predict where and how the fire will start,” said Immanat , showing his burnt arm.
Even the huts built at the base of the towering garbage pile have been burnt down several times. At present, over 1,000 ragpickers and their families live in around 800 huts.
In 2013, around 180 huts here were destroyed by a fire that started off as a usual spark. In 2010, all 800 shanties were burnt down, killing two dwellers and injuring several others. Over 27 fire tenders were used for dousing the blaze that lasted for two days.
Durga Deb was among those whose life’s savings were gutted that day. The walls of her oncebricked house are now made of cardboard. “The fire continued throughout the night,” she said.
Deb, who along with her husband, came here from Bangladesh in 2000. She said fires were a routine, but at times, these turned uncontrollable.
Chitra Mukher jee from Chintan, an NGO working with the ragpickers around the national capital, said such fires were a result of the lack of segregation of waste at source.
“When mixed waste is piled up, it degenerates into methane after a while. This is among the most potent greenhouse gases,” she said. “In most countries a landfill is the last option for waste management. By not segregating dry from wet waste, we are not just causing environmental problems, but are also risking the lives of hundreds of waste pickers,” she said.
Methane released from wet waste was 25% more potent than carbon dioxide. Better waste management and segregation was the only way forward, said Mukherjee. She said in summer, the risk of such fires became higher.
Government officials have turned a blind eye to their plight. “In many cases, these ragpickers deliberately light fire to separate metal from the trash. This leads to an uncontrollable fire as garbage emits flammable gases,” said an official from the east Delhi municipal corporation.