City of garbage

Published on 16 February 2012 in View Point
Nadia Al-Sakkaf (author)

Nadia Al-Sakkaf


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On average, US garbage collectors earn double that of waiters and around $8,000 more than a teacher’s average salary.

They get compensation for occupational hazards and usually work between 25 and 30 hours a week. They have strong unions to represent them and ensure they receive their rights.

Sana’a has been swimming in trash for over a week since the city’s garbage collectors and truck drivers went on strike. They want better salaries and permanent contracts. They want appreciation for their work in a culture that looks down on them and a society that deliberately makes their work harder.

Garbage collectors in Yemen earn around YR 21,000 a month (about $100) for ten hours of work a day, seven days a week, while on average a teacher receives around YR 50,000 (around $230) for five hours a day. It is not that teachers are overcompensated; it is that garbage collectors are so disadvantaged it is appalling.

In the past, each time the collectors went on strike – making the same demands – they were appeased by empty promises and went back to work. This time they are refusing to return to the streets to collect the more than 10,000 tons of garbage produced by Sana’a residents every day.

I miss the way my city looked when it was clean. Now there are mounds of dirty trash piled up across Sana’a, making it difficult to walk and even to drive. And as the trash builds up, residents are increasingly trying to burn the mounds of garbage – causing yet another environmental hazard.

The problem is the indifference locals have towards this issue. They know that collectors are on strike yet almost every household continues to pile garbage onto the heaps of already rotten trash. The only beneficiaries are the street cats and dogs taking advantage to feast on the trash, tearing open plastic bags and dragging garbage across the streets.

This could be a lesson for the people of Yemen; a lesson about appreciating those invisible heroes without whose work our life would literally sink into a sea of garbage.

We also need to learn how to manage our daily consumption and the amount of waste we produce. It’s time to think about the environment before we use plastic bags or throw out such huge amounts of trash.

But most importantly, these men and women deserve far better treatment and we should learn to give them the respect and thanks they deserve.