Venezuela – swap scheme turns garbage to food for Caracas poor

In a hilltop in Venezuela’s capital Caracas, where hunger and crime are as common as tumbledown homes, Amarilis Chirinos is finding that the garbage strewn on the slum’s slopes has its uses. ENS reports that she and other residents of the western El Resplandor neighbourhood are flocking to exchange recyclable waste for sugar, rice, beans and canned sardines in a food-for-garbage programme started by local authorities.

“I feel pretty proud because I earned the food. It wasn’t just given to me. They swapped it for garbage I collected,” said Chirinos, who turned in empty bottles, old clothes and a damaged and rusty cooker in exchange for groceries.

Under the “Big Swap” programme organised by authorities in Caracas’ Libertador district, residents can exchange 55 pounds of scrap metal for 2.2 pounds of rice, 4.4 pounds of aluminum for a can of powdered milk, and 44 pounds of glass for a can of tuna.

Caracas’ slums are overflowing with garbage. Old fridges, mattresses and used tires are among tonnes of rubbish clogging the steep ravines packed with poor homes that ring the sprawling capital of the world’s No. 5 oil exporter. According to official estimates, 80 perc ent of Venezuela’s 25 million people live in poverty.

Unemployment remained stubbornly high at 18.3 per cent in July. It was pushed up by a severe recession triggered by a crippling general strike in December and January called by Venezuela’s opposition against leftist President Hugo Chavez.

Organizers said the food-for-garbage programme had more than one benefit. Besides providing food for the poor, it also helped to clear refuse-choked ravines that overflow in the rainy season, threatening homes with deadly floods and mudslides.

Collecting the garbage in some cases involves scouring fetid, polluted streams that bisect the capital’s slum neighborhoods. But despite some complaints that the scheme exposed them to infection, most El Resplandor residents seemed to think the programme was worthwhile.

The idea of exchanging recyclable garbage for food originated in the Brazilian city of Curitiba. It had also been applied in the western Venezuelan states of Lara and Merida.

Manuel Molina, head of Municipal Services in Libertador district, explained the programme worked on a system of points, calculated from the market cost of the recyclable refuse and the cost of food to be handed over in exchange. The Libertador district alone, one of the five municipalities that make up Caracas, generates 2,000 tonnes a day of garbage. The food-for-rubbish scheme was expected to reduce the level of refuse by up to 40 per cent. Molina said the authorities intended to carry out around 60 similar food-for-garbage operations in Caracas this year, swapping 1,200 tonnes of rubbish for around 76 tonnes of food.

The three tonnes of food being distributed in the first exchanges were donated by the “Sovereign People Foundation,” which is directly run from the office of the president.

Molina said it was better to hand over products rather than cash. “We wouldn’t want people to be squandering away what they get from the swap on horse races or crates of beer. We want them to have food,” he added.

The collected rubbish is given to local cooperatives which sell the material to recycling companies. This covers some 30 percent of the cost of the programme. Authorities are hoping to extend the initiative to the rest of the country.


Ano da Publicação: 2003
Fonte: WARMER BULLETIN ENEWS #29-2003: October 8, 2003
Autor: Kit Strange, Warmer Bulletin
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