Dr Jack Preger MBE ~ STWR Member
The Parable of the Rubbish Dump
I live next to a monumental rubbish dump, the proud possession of Kolkata (previously Calcutta) Municipal Corporation. I was here at this location in Calcutta long before the dump arrived. But that counts for nothing, of course, and I have too much rubbish of my own to face trying to move out to another, sweeter- smelling location. The Corporation has a fleet of open, aged trucks on to which the night's collection of refuse is loaded with gay abandon by a gang of labourers armed with shovels, some of which, like the trucks & the labourers, have seen much better days. When loaded, the trucks are carefully parked outside my living quarters, allowing all concerned, except, myself, a period for rest and refreshment. Perched on top of the tarpaulin covered loads of garbage, the lorry crews happily consume their life-supporting snacks. Parked conveniently close by is a small three-wheeler van, with a driver and assistant fast asleep, sprawled out across the single seat, lower limbs dangling out on either side. To avoid any mistake on the part of the public, the van is prominently marked Kolkata Corporation Carcass Van. The sleeping gentlemen are patiently waiting for the Corporation garbage collectors to arrive with their little hand-pulled, two-wheeled carts; which may contain animal carcasses as well as a heady selection of garbage. Only rarely is one privileged to see a white painted van with a black cross on the side, which is labeled Dead Body Ambulance.
As though this was not enough, after declaring the adjoining property an Heritage Building (a building of historical importance) the Corporation graciously built a public conveneience next to the rubbish dump. Lacking the funds to employ staff to operate the convenience, it has remained firmly closed ever since it was built. But the public got the message OK and cheerfully urinate outside the convenience, since they can't urinate inside.
As though this was not enough, in addition to the gang of garbage shovellers the dump is graced with a competing gang of scavengers. Competing, in fact, for the garbage. They pick over everything: not only is paper, glass, metal and plastic carefully separated, packed and carried off as head-loads for sale. The left-over waste food from restaurants etc is shoveled into large drums and used for animal feed. As yet, the feed is moved to the animals. At other locations, the animals live on the dumps. The scavengers frequently get injured in their work, by the garbage or by the trucks. In addition to the usual hazards, home-made bombs beloved of Kolkata's gangsters take their toll. Nor are the scavengers immune to the common afflictions of tuberculosis and malaria.
As though this was not enough, for scavengers to try to get treatment in a Government hospital would be similar to a rich man seeking entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven. Unlike the camel squeezing through the Needle's Eye in the Holy Land, the scavenger might, perhaps, get a hospital bed. What she/he won't get is free treatment. Or free laboratory investigations. Not only has the daily income of the scavenger been lost, which averages less than one US $ and on which a whole family may depend for survival. But the treatment prescribed by the hospital has to be bought. Perhaps with a loan at an extortionate rate of interest. The next-of-kin buying the medicine has to pay Government taxes on the drugs. In West Bengal this is currently 7.2%.
As though this was not enough, favoured members of the bourgeoisie, especially Government ministers and other politicians, are able to go to Western countries (USA, UK) for free medical treatment, taking with them not only their own doctors, but family members also. All expenses are paid from Government funds, running into some 3 million dollars a trip; and it has been known for selected dignitaries to make repeated trips; before dying anyway. But still, the sick scavenger's next-of-kin must pay Government taxes on the purchased medicines. Every little addition to Government funds counts.
What has any of this to do with Sharing the World's Resources? A lot. In daily contact with the scavengers, I have been able to enroll them as patients at one of the free clinics run by Calcutta Rescue, the organization I work for. When necessary our ambulance transports the sick to the clinic, then to hospital if required. All laboratory investigations, treatment - whether medical or surgical, and nutritional requirements are provided by Calcutta Rescue; if we have the funds available. At the moment we have to refuse new patients due to having lost 25% of our scheduled budget, but so far existing patients have been cared for; but our waiting lists continue to grow. For as long as we can, we try to make an exception and treat new serious accident cases I believe what we have done in Calcutta for the last 25 years with the scavengers and others at the bottom of the social heap demonstrates what sharing can achieve. Most of all, it gives hope where before there was despair.
It has all been said before; and said much better than I can ever hope to express:
"He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill"
That was written some 2500 years ago, by a Hebrew Psalmist who believed that is the work required of us. The only way to achieve this lifting up, this liberation is in fact to Share what Resources we have. Let's do it. Let's do it now.
© Copyright 2006 Share The World's Resources (www.stwr.org)
For More information regarding the vital work of Dr Jack Preger, please visit the Calcutta Rescue web site: