07 December 2022

The People of Dandora by Sam Barker

This year, Sam travelled to Africa’s biggest rubbish dump site, the infamous Dandora in Nairobi. Once a place full of nature and wildlife, it is now home to 30 acres of nauseating toxic wasteland. The dump was full by 2001, but attempts on its closure have been met with hesitation from local government.

The site is run by cartel gangs and operates as a fully functioning economic system, serving some 3000 local families on the site and in the surrounding slums. With its own rules, system of commerce and even its own church and hotel, it’s a hellish yet working habitat. The cartels run arms deals, using lorries to carry weapons in and out of the area – while the local police keep their distance.

The air is polluted with smoke from the burning landfills and pervades nearby homes and schools. The cocktail of chemicals emitted from the burning waste has a profound effect on health, causing cancer, blood and respiratory disorders and in particular effects women’s fertility – disrupting menstrual cycles and causing birth defects in babies.

Between 1000 and 3000 men, women and children endure the daily search for plastic bottles, cartons and glass amongst the noxious piles of rubbish. Items are sold to the middlemen, making them between $2.50 on a good day, or sometimes as little as 80 cents, all to simply feed their families. They wear no protective clothing, or gloves and share the wasteland with giant flesh-eating Maribou birds and wild pigs. This toxic culture leaves the people exposed to the brutal order that is the way of life there.

These are proud people trying to support their families in the most hostile and difficult environment imaginable. My images show a visual observation of the disastrous consequences of unmanaged mass-pollution, as well as the incredible determination of the human spirit. These are the people of Dandora.