Tag Archives: acorn india

Indian Informal Workers are Starving

Pearl River     I have to tell the truth.  It’s hard to read some of these reports from near and far complaining about being required to comply with stay-at-home orders in order to protect their own lives and the lives of their community, once again, near and far.  I totally get the ones that are hurting because that means they can’t work and are still trying to file for unemployment across the digital divide and waiting with hopes and prayers to find out if they really got a check of $1200 from the government to help them make it through so they can figure out groceries and rent.

The ones that I don’t get at all are the stories that focus on dealing with boredom, advice about cabin fever, stories about soaring divorce rates in China and soon in the United States because couples had to stay together.  Games are recommended.  Netflix and Amazon Prime shows are ranked.  YouTube comedians are pushed so that they can have their day.

Maybe it’s me?  I keep wondering what world these people are living in?

ACORN has worked in India for over fifteen years now.  We have members in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi, Chennai, and dozens of other cities.  I get reports from the organizers every day.  We had an emergency WhatsApp call last week with the team in the wake of Prime Minister Narenda Modi declaring a national shutdown in the country with only four hours’ notice.  We have over 50,000 members of ACORN in India and our work is in the mega-slums like Dharavi in Mumbai and in building unions of informal workers in all the other cities.  Our members range from waste pickers to hawkers, street vendors, domestic workers, moto-rickshaw drivers, and informal residential construction workers.  These are daily wage workers.  If they don’t work, they don’t eat.  A stay-at-home order for many is meaningless because no small number are living where they work in their storage sheds or sleeping in their rickshaws.  There is no social distancing in the slums.   The government says it’s going to provide food rations, but they were not ready to do so when they shut the country down, closed the trains for migrant workers to return to their villages, and ordered the police to beat people found out during curfews.  Food is still late in arriving.

An ACORN affiliate and partner, Janapahal, operates more than a dozen night shelters in Delhi for informal and migrant workers without other housing.  I got this message from Darmendra Kumar, ACORN’s Delhi director last night,

“…Janpahal is serving food to migrants in Delhi to support them in surviving 21 days #lockdown.  We are serving more than 5000 meals on a daily basis through out 7 community kitchens to those not having access to food and any welfare measures.”

He asked me to post this on ACORN International’s website, and we will, because we have to do everything that we can do.

My advice to anyone stuck at home and bored is to think about how lucky you are to have food and shelter.  While you’re bored, here’s my advice for a pick me up, and I’ll quote Dharmendra again,

“Kindly donate generously on ACORN International’s website to help us defeat hunger and defeat corona.  All donations will go to feed migrants in India.”

Just say, “Delhi” on the PayPal memo.

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Zero Waste, Plastics Everywhere, and Developing Countries Pointing the Path

New Orleans      ACORN India’s Dharavi Project has long focused on recycling in the Mumbai mega-slum where we work.  Organizing young waste pickers has led us to create a cooperative of sorts employing scores of recyclers.  ACORN has struck deals with many schools, including the French and American schools there, as well as with the Bloomberg office building to handle and sort all of their recyclable waste.  In Katmandu, Vinod Shetty reported that we also have been able to negotiate being able to operate booths on zero waste at several conventions and trade shows in Mumbai where our recyclers also handle all recycling.  Dharavi has long been famous as a model for integrating work and living arrangements for lower income families in India.  Prince Charles several years ago held the slum up as a model of sustainability.

It is interesting to see developing countries in the global South leading the way in this most fundamental environmental task.  A recent article in Science (September 20, 2019 by Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola, Solomon Assefa, Kareem Sheikh, and Jeannette Garcia) highlighted similar work in Africa and steps taken there to deal with plastic pollution that might be the envy of other countries around the world.

The article, written by both recyclers and academics, points out that there are a higher percentage of African countries than elsewhere around the world that have plastic bans.  Rwanda led the way in 2008 by banning nonbiodegradable polyethylene bags as well as their manufacture with strict punishments and enforcement.  Tanzania has a ban, and Kenya is trying a tax.  Kenya is also experimenting with “incentivizing community-led collection that is turning plastics into mattresses and eco-friendly asphalt, bricks, fencing posts, school bags, and shoes.”

Mr Green Africa

Looking at Africa’s largest city, Lagos, Nigeria, and its production of waste of all kinds, the Science authors argue that it represents a huge opportunity for building plastic recycling plants, but limited electrical power and formal and informal workers inability to sufficiently fulfill the demand of such plants for product are stunting the prospects.  It’s a situation of water, water everywhere without a drop to drink, where plastic is equally ubiquitous, but there’s no system that creates enough to keep plants at full capacity yet.

Experiments in Lagos with incentive-based programs include RecyclePoints and Chanja Datti are promising.  In these situations, individual collectors deliver plastic and have their work redeemed by cash or “points” that can be converted into consumer use.  Elsewhere, Mr. Green Africa in Nairobi has built a network of 2000 waste collectors and recycled more than 2000 tons of plastic waste and rerouted it to manufacturers.  Another operation called Plastic Bank is “a social enterprise deployed in Asia, with plans to expand into South Africa.”

As an organizer, I’ve argued solving community sanitation issues is a critical path to power, if achieved.  The crisis in handling plastic in the developing world coupled with population growth and inadequate disposal systems, may force the creation of some innovative solutions that point the path.

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