Years of living dangerously

by John Einar Sandvand on March 10, 2009

Here is one of the most dangerous professions in the world: Scavenger at the Stung Meanchey garbage dump in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh.

Scavenger at Stung Meanchey garbage dump in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Scavenger at Stung Meanchey garbage dump in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

It smells. There are flies everywhere. From the burning garbage come poisonous gases. Everybody is sick.

It is hard to imagine a more dangerous working place than Stung Meanchey, the garbage dump of Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh.

Yet about 2000 families are living around and partially on the garbage dump, most of them making their living from picking and sorting the garbage.


A female scavenger at Stung Meanchey in Phnom Phenh.

Every day 800 tons of garbage is being transported to the dump. The scavengers run after the trucks as they get ready to dump the garbage. Frequently scavengers have started to climb the garbage even before the truch has finished unloading.

A significant portion of the scavengers are children or teenagers who are forced to work rathen than go to school.

Accidents happen regurlarly. Recently I wrote about 17 year old Chantha Sreymao who died when she was hit by a garbage bin in her head.

In this video, produced by Australian John, a similar accident is filmed in which a young boy dies. It demonstrates how dangerous working at the dump can be:

- The living conditions for the scavengers are terrible, and they have numerous health problems. We are talking about diarhhea, malaria, dengue, sore throats and lung problems. There is no sense of hygiene. As you have seen there are flies all over and people go for toilet everywhere. Diseases are spreading very easily, So Phalla, a local teacher told me.

She was supported by Meak Sokha, who runs Center for Children’s Happiness, an orphanage for scavenger kids. – Doctors have told me that a large percentage of the people living by the dump will develop cancer within 10 years, he said.


A "restaurant" on Stung Meanchey garbage dump in Phnom Penh.

Families may be able to make around 3 USD per day, which is barely enough to survive. Frequently parents will force their children to work, denying them the right to go to school.

Most of their houses are made of the garbage. There is no running water and no facilities for toilets. Often people make their food on the garbage dump itself.

I must admit I found the visit to Stung Meanchey depressing. Living and working conditions were terrible, to put it mildly. And it was difficult to see any hope for the many children working on the dump as years pass by without any education and alternative skills.

It is all caused by poverty. Families have moved to Stung Meanchey because they see no other way to make a living. Of course they realize how dangerous it is. Yet they see no alternative for themselves.


Many of the scavengers at Stung Meanchey are children.

Other bloggers about Stung Meanchey:


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asraf dahari July 2, 2010 at 4:20 am

I hope to see with my own eyes the living conditions of the people at stung meanchey next month. I would like your advice on this, tq.


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