Dirty Cities, Deadly Cities

Manila (WFS)–The tons of garbage spewed out by Filipino cities is taking its toll on children's lives. Recently, one-year-old Irison Solis died of pneumonia and four-year-old Lovelyn Najera died of meningitis. The children they played with survived but with big stomachs, dry hair and symptoms of malnutrition.

These children and their parents live on a 24-hectare garbage dump site at Katmon, Malabon, a marginalized town in the Metro Manila area where several thousand migrants from the rural areas come in search of food, jobs and security. But with not enough jobs, garbage becomes the means of livelihood for many. At the five open dump sites in Metro Manila, scavengers and nearby residents battle scores of filth-borne diseases that prove fatal with alarming regularity.

"The pollution and the offensive odor of the dump could have contributed to the high incidence of respiratory diseases in the area," says Dr. Raymundo Vicente, physician at the Department of Health (DOH) Centre in Katmon. Centre records indicate from June 1992 to January 1993, respiratory diseases constituted 37 per cent of all diagnosed illnesses.

The other problem is constant exposure to excrement. "Many houses here don't have private toilets. There's no space for them," says Wilmer Najera, 21, who lives near the Katmon site. A study by the Environmental Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources says that by the end of 1986, only 63 per cent of households at the Katmon site had sanitary toilets; 15 per cent had unsanitary toilets; and 16 per cent had no toilets at all.

"We just wrap it (excreta) and throw it," says Leonila Parel, 45, who lives near the Katmon dump. Like in many other developing countries, this waste often finds its way into canals and rivers and contaminates food and water.

Besides human waste, garbage remains a massive problem. Despite decentralization of the collection system in 1992, garbage continues to spill over the streets of Metro Manila, causing scores of filth-borne diseases including diarrhoea. "Many of my neighbors suffer from diarrhoea. Ever since they were small, all my three children have repeatedly had colds and sometimes fever during the nights," says Najera of the Malabon dump site.

According to the DOH, diarrhoea plagues an average of 770,000 Filipinos annually. In 1991, 5,403 people died of related complications. It was the second leading cause of morbidity from 1986-1991 and seventh in terms of mortality.

It is, however, just one of the more than 35 filth-borne diseases identified by Dr. Metodio Palaypay, a public health professor at the University of the Philippines. The others include typhoid fever, cholera, dysentery, tuberculosis, anthrax, ophthalmia, intestinal worms and poliomyelitis. DOH identifies other filth-borne diseases like skin disorders, pneumonia, parasitism, tuberculosis and malaria as five out of the top 10 leading causes of morbidity from 1986 to 1991.

DOH also reported a 69 per cent increase in the number of typhoid cases in Metro Manila in 1992 over the previous year. During 1990-91, DOH hospitals in Metro Manila admitted the highest number of people suffering from cholera, dengue fever, hepatitis A, poliomyelitis and typhoid. DOH hospitals in other areas had fewer such cases.

Dr. Baquilod, a doctor at the Environmental Health Service of DOH, says that mosquitoes, cockroaches and rats in the area are also responsible for contaminating water, food and soil. This results in diarrhoea, amoebiasis, dysentery, viral hepatitis, cholera, typhoid fever and parasitism.

Copyright 1994, Women's Feature Service