Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

One Cambodian Turns Trash to Cash

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

One Cambodian Turns Trash to Cash

Article excerpt

Heng Yon Kora has had a long, intimate relationship with trash: As a teenager just after the fall of the Khmer Rouge's brutal regime - a period when Cambodia was racked by famine - he survived on it.

He quickly learned that, in a nation trying to rebuild after years of war and isolation, discarded metals and plastics were precious commodities. Selling recycled waste, Mr. Kora soon had enough money to pay for schoolbooks.

Although hard work took him away from the garbage heaps - to jobs at the World Health Organization and the United Nations - he never forgot the lessons he learned there.

His profession in human rights and development often brought him face to face with garbage pickers. Thousands of them, including about 1,000 children in Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, pick garbage for a living, selling scrap to earn enough to eat. Many face discrimination and grim health prospects.

There was the growing amount of garbage, too. As Kora's nation rises, enjoying an economic boom, its garbage woes have piled high.

So in 1997, Kora decided to address the poverty and waste by founding the Community Sanitation and Recycling Organization (CSARO), a nongovernmental organization that turns trash into an economic asset for the poor, borrowing an idea from NGOs in neighboring countries.

It's a small success story not only for making a dent in Cambodia's poverty, but also as a showcase of how innovative local solutions in one part of Asia are being exchanged throughout the region.Phnom Penh's only waste dump at Stung Meanchey, six miles outside the city, tells the underside of Cambodia's economic story.

Garbage rises like a mountain, its contents a discarded inventory of life - chunks of ceramic toilets, plastic sneakers, and water bottles. Garbage is up by 15 percent in the capital from last year, according to CINTRI, a Canadian company that does waste removal here.

The city has no official recycling policy, and the landfill is now overflowing, posing health and environmental risks. Kora knew from experience that just throwing trash into landfill was a waste. "We've been standing up at city hall and saying that waste is money," he says. …

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