Sitio Damayan

Sitio Damayan is a relatively small settlement, but it faces many of the risks and challenges common to informal communities throughout the developing world. Located in the North Harbor area of Manila, Sitio Damayan is home to around five thousand residents. The area was settled in the year 2000 after its residents, mostly migrants from rural provinces, were evicted from their previous settlement.

The Philippines itself, due to its geography as well as its poverty, is already one of the most deadly countries on earth when it comes to natural disasters. Sitio Damayan’s waterfront location makes it even more vulnerable to storm damage and flooding. Rising sea levels due to climate change will likely make flooding even more frequent.

Residents have poor access to electricity and no running water. Bottled water must be purchased outside of the community at prices that are much higher than the prices paid by city residents with running water. There is no sewer system, leaving stagnant waste pooled around the homes. And while several non-governmental organizations are trying to provide children with access to education, many children must work in order for the family to earn enough money for food, making it difficult for them to attend school.

While the community’s location next to a trash dump already makes for an unhealthy environment, the main industry within the community, charcoal production, leaves a permanent layer of thick black smoke over the community. Residents of all ages, including young children, participate in the dirty and dangerous work. The relatively low startup costs make the work available for workers with few other options.

The process, which involves bundling wood timbers and slowly burning them for three or four days, exposes workers to high levels of carbon monoxide as well as other toxic emissions and soot. Respiratory illnesses and heart disease are common among the workers, many of whom told me they don’t expect to live much past 50 years of age.

Residents of Sitio Damayan are now also at risk of eviction. Local officials say the city is planning to demolish the community in order to expand the neighboring trash dump.