Charcoal harvesting rife in Manila's slums
Charcoal harvesting in many provinces in Philippines is now banned, however, within the poorest of Manila’s slums the primitive practice of producing charcoal continues.
Ancient kiln firing of wood to produce charcoal is a particularly popular activity during the festive and holiday seasons when cooking for large family celebrations is a tradition. Most Filipinos cook with charcoal.
Despite being banned in many districts, illegal charcoal harvesting continues secretly within many of Manila’s outer suburban slums.
Just a few kilometres from Manila’s city centre the poorest of the slum families’ risk their lives to make just a few pesos in the illegal charcoal making business in appalling conditions.
Charcoal harvesting takes a total of five days per stack. Two days of preparation: building the kiln from piles of wood into a pyramid shape; covering of the wood with tin and then the structure is covered soil.
The charcoal producers tend to the kiln hourly over a period of two days breathing the acrid smoke as they stoke the fires. The charcoal is then harvested and packed into large sacks.
Children as young as three work helping to pack large sacks of charcoal that sell for around 400 pesos or $8 USD a bag. Children are also used to carry bags of charcoal and sell it to local slum families for cooking purposes.
Families who pack the charcoal with their bare hands are paid just 8 pesos (16 cents USD) per bag by the charcoal producers.
Joyce, a single mother in her 30s, with seven children aged from three to 10, works with her children from early morning to dusk packing bags of charcoal. It is the only way she can make money to feed herself and her children.
Joyce and her children make just 192 pesos or around USD $3.92 a day packing 24 large sacks of charcoal.
But she says what choice does she have?
“I did not finish schooling and even my children do not study because we just can’t afford it,” Joyce tells an interpreter.
“All my family members are working as charcoal makers, from my youngest to my oldest – all my seven children.
“It’s very little we earn but my only source of income and at least we can eat for Noche Buena (Christmas).”
Joyce left her husband because he was unfaithful.
At the same time their work has a shocking impact on their health. Joyce’s children’s faces and hands are pitted with coal dust; their eyes red and sore; their noses constantly dripping with black soot; and their lungs filled with the dust from the charcoal and pungent smoke that fills the air of the charcoal harvesting area.
Yet despite the obvious health risks of charcoal making Joyce is worried about their future after hearing that the city government of Malabon will end charcoal making in the district by 2019.
The sad fact is that her children will be lucky to reach their teenage years without suffering major health problems or even death from pulmonary disorders.
Some of the health risks facing the charcoal producing families in Manila’s slums include acute infections of the lower respiratory tract such as pneumonia; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema; and lung cancers.
“I know it’s a dangerous occupation but we have no other skills. It’s the only thing my family knows. We are charcoal makers.”