Surprisingly, Managua probably boasts what must be one of the most efficient recycling systems anywhere in the world. Every day as many as 1,200 tonnes of trash are added to the mountain of garbage on the shore of Lake Managua that is known as La Chureca. As you travel around the undeveloped world you become more accustomed of the sight of people living in a level of poverty that would be unimaginable to most people in the cosseted ‘western’ world. You struggle against becoming blasé towards the heart-rending hopelessness of people living under plastic sheets on the streets of Kolkata. 


The growing townships of Nairobi or the flooded, ramshackle slums of waterfront Jakarta can become no more than just another fleeting hazard to negotiate. Now and again though you see a side of life that can once again shake you up and rattle your conscience with an idea of just what poverty means. La Chureca, in Managua, is one such place. An estimated 3,500 people live and work on this 150-acre garbage heap, scouring through the refuse for any plastics, tin or paper that can be sold.


The landscape is like a backdrop for Dante’s Inferno: smoke and noxious gases ooze out of the hills of refuse during the long dry seasons. The first heavy rains turn the landscape to a poisonous, steaming mountain of black sludge. Children as young as four and five work with their families, sifting through the residue of the daily lives of the more fortunate inhabitants in this city. Scraggy, hollow-ribbed dogs and filthy cows scratch through the dirt and slime for edible morsels.

Twelve year-old Julio has never known another life. He works here ten hours a day, every day, and is already an expert at prospecting sellable items out of the smouldering heaps of garbage. Like most of the children here he suffers from malnutrition, parasites and a hacking cough that is brought on by the poisonous black gases.

I am here to do a story on the ‘Churequeros’ and the NGOs (see and that are working to help them. I spend a morning with Julio and friends and co-workers on the dump. It is hard to speak amongst the stink of rotting vegetables and the swarms of hungry flies and I have to struggle not to cover my mouth. But I remind myself that these people have to deal with every day. For them it is, in fact, a relatively beautiful morning in La Chureca; there are days when the rains turn all this into a bubbling black swamp or when the wind whips up the fires so that you are half-blinded and constantly choked.

The ‘Churequeros’ rarely venture into the city itself, where they are invariably greeted with suspicion and fear. They are the outcasts of Managua but they ask for little beyond the one or two dollars they can scrape together for a little heap of beans and a couple of shreds of corn tortilla.

Life is hard down in the dumps in Managua.