Where Garbage Means Survival

Across an ocean of garbage, the crash of the Asian economic miracle takes on a disheartening look. At the Bekasi dump, what Jakarta's millions throw away is scavenged and picked by people who must suffer the 90-degree heat and the flies in order to feed their starving families, reports CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen.

They hunt for tires or tin cans, and bits of plastic bags sold for recycling. Children compete with adults, and all must dance away as trucks and bulldozers go about their work, oblivious to the humans, uncaring of their fate.

In the middle of all this, there is find 5-year-old Mastreah, spotless in her polka-dot dress, confused by what's around her. She never utters a word.

Child in the dumping ground (CBS)

Scavenging is the new family business, Mastreah's grandmother tells us. In the village, she explains, there was nothing to eat.

Mastreah's mother collects plastic. A lucky day may bring two or three dollars, which is enough for at least one meal.

Even in a place like this, there is a sort of grim economics at work. Last year, about 500 people would come here. Now, because of the recession, about 2,000 come to scratch and find what they can, and for each of them, it is increasingly harder to find anything.

The middle-men who send the plastic off for recycling buy on the spot. Some fly Indonesian flags marking their sites, a grotesque place for nationalistic pride.

The Main Street Bekasi dump is where the weary eat, drink lemonade or buy cigarettes.

Ali cares little about such luxuries. Already, he walks with the bent back of an old man.

His boss is his father, Rojac. He knows nothing about the summit of Asian leaders. Asked what he might want from the American president, he is more sure.

"I would ask for his investment in Indonesia," he says.

The day doesn't end at Bekasi when the sun sets, as hunger keeps no hours. By night, the searchers use home-made torches or flashlights as the trucks keep rumbling in.

"Abandon hope, all ye who enter here," wrote Dante of hell's inferno. In Bekasi's hell, they have abandoned hope of everything except clawing out one more day's survival.
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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