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We live off the landfill: images from one of Latin America’s dirtiest slums, largest garbage dumps

The residents of the El Milagro slum, part of the city of Trujillo, Peru, have lived for years amidst the heavy smoke and nauseating stench of one of Latin America’s largest landfills.

  • 9 months ago
  • August 27, 2023
4 min read
Residents live next to and work inside El Milagro, one of Latin America's largest garbage dumps. As they watch conditions deteriorate, they fear things will only get worse. | Photo courtesy of Randy Reyes Residents live next to and work inside El Milagro, one of Latin America's largest garbage dumps. As they watch conditions deteriorate, they fear things will only get worse. | Photo courtesy of Randy Reyes
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TRUJILLO, Peru ꟷ Today’s photo gallery comes from Randy Reyes Sánchez of Peru. It features photos of the El Milagro dump, one of the largest garbage landfills in Latin America, and of Reynerio José Mendoza, one of the oldest members of the community that lives beside and scavenges in the landfill. Having worked in the area his entire life raising pigs to provide for his family, he watches the conditions worsen year by year.

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The residents of the El Milagro slum, part of the city of Trujillo, Peru, have lived for years amidst the heavy smoke and nauseating stench of one of Latin America’s largest landfills.

A few feet away from the so-called City of Eternal Spring, Medellin, lies El Milagro. El Milagro has an estimated population of 24,625, over 60 percent of which are under 29 years old.

The dump receives about one million kilos of garbage every day, about 1,000 tons. Behind the jovial marinera dances and colorful spring parades of the region hides the pain and resignation of a group of people who live in this very poor and dirty underworld.

Peering into the eyes of community members reveals heartbreak and neglect. Children at El Milagro often miss out on childhood. Instead of knowing the innocent pleasures of being a kid, they watch their parents struggle to keep them safe.

Hundreds of residents work inside the dump

Approximately 1,800 people work in the dump. Among them is Reynerio Mendoza, a man who’s lived here his entire life. He has witnessed the conditions in the landfill slowly deteriorate, with no way to stop it. 

Born beside the El Milagro dump, Reynerio is the patriarch of a family. He works with his hands, without any fear of contracting diseases. Each mark on Reynerio’s face tells a story of injustice and extreme poverty. His eyes seem lost and full of grief. He believes he has nothing more to offer this world. 

Reynerio’s family raises pigs which they feed from the garbage around them. He watched as the garbage accumulated around his home for years. Every morning, he wakes up to the stench of burnt rubber and mold.

Reynerio’s soft voice reveals a lifetime of neglect and pain, shared with those around him. He spent most of it collecting garbage in search of food or valuables. The people in the area all turn to similar practices, unable to sustain the bare necessities.

The pigs he raises carry several diseases due to the horrible conditions they live in. When he sells them, it generates potential problems for the health of his customers. 

Nobody in an official capacity supervises the breeding of the pigs and authorities fail to create a more sanitary way of disposing of the garbage. The indifference feels palpable.

All photos are courtesy of Randy Reyes Sánchez.

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