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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Harsh Conditions for Vientiane’s Garbage Collectors Highlighted in World Bank Report

This Week

Garbage collectors in Vientiane, Laos, endure harsh living conditions, raising concerns about their welfare. The World Bank’s recent report emphasizes the urgent need to improve their safety and legal status. 

These workers face significant health risks and lack adequate healthcare, prompting the World Bank to recommend immediate action.

A recent report by an international financial institution recognizes the crucial role waste collectors play in improving the overall cleanliness of the city and promoting recycling. 

In Vientiane Capital, some workers roam the streets, picking up scattered garbage from households and premises, while many others live and work at the Km 32 landfill outside the city.

Among these workers is Thong Vongchaleun, a 62-year-old resident of Nong Douang Thong village in Vientiane Capital. Thong describes her job as an “extreme struggle,” earning only LAK 700,000 to LAK 1 million (USD 31.63 to 45.46) per month. 

“The income that I have is barely enough to cover my day-to-day expenses,” she says. “I sell all the trash I collect daily and just spend it only on necessities, mainly food. Going to the market these days would cost me around LAK 100,000 (USD 4.55).”

Thong’s work is not only financially challenging but also physically taxing. She frequently handles sharp objects like meatball skewers and broken glass.

“They have left quite a lot of scars on my hands,” she noted. 

Despite the hardships, Thong has been a garbage collector for 20 years after her vegetable-selling business failed, she told the Laotian Times.

Thong is aware of potential benefits from the government, but her efforts to apply for elder welfare have gone unanswered. Her daughter’s support is a crucial lifeline, helping Thong to continue despite her dire circumstances.

The woman’s situation is not unique. She knows many others facing similar struggles and calls for government welfare assistance to improve the quality of their lives. 

Alex Kremer, World Bank Country Manager for Laos, acknowledged the plight of informal workers like Thong, stating that they “exist outside the formal protection of the law.” He highlighted the lack of basic safety measures, including health insurance, which exacerbates their vulnerability to injuries and illnesses.

The World Bank’s reports highlighted the numerous risks waste collectors face, from handling sharp and contaminated materials to potential accidents. These workers, with limited bargaining power and control over their service prices, are prone to poverty and social and economic risks. 

The vulnerability extends to children who often take up garbage collecting, missing school and receiving inadequate education, the report highlighted. 

In light of these ongoing struggles, the World Bank calls for greater action and awareness to ensure the recognition and protection of garbage pickers. The suggested measures include providing training and necessary equipment, as well as ensuring access to welfare, healthcare, and safety protections.

Currently, only 31 percent of households in Vientiane have access to waste collection services, with low recycling rates. This highlights the need to integrate formally employed waste collectors, truck drivers, and scrap yards with waste pickers and the recycling market.

By incorporating waste collection workers into the formal sector and providing them with adequate support, Vientiane can achieve better waste management outcomes while ensuring the health, safety, and economic stability of its most vulnerable workers, according to all the sources who spoke with the Laotian Times.

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