The Up Close and Personal Issue

Inside Madagascar's 'City of Flies'

About 3,000 people who live in a garbage dump on the outskirts of the country's capital, Antananarivo, are still in close proximity to the pneumonic plague that began last August.

by Riccardo Bononi
May 24 2016, 12:00am

This article appeared in the May issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.

Most towns and cities in Madagascar have contained an outbreak of plague that began in the country last August, but about 3,000 people who live in a garbage dump on the outskirts of the country's capital, Antananarivo, are still in close proximity to the disease. The inhabitants of "Ralalitra" (the "City of Flies") spend their days scavenging amid debris, rats, and dead bodies. SAMVA, the private company the government contracts to run the facility, denies the squatter settlements' existence and has threatened photographers and journalists who try to document life there.

The luckiest among the dumpsite dwellers moved to work in the nearby porphyry mine. They now work ten hours a day and earn much less than before, but dignity has its price, they said. From there they can still see the smoke from the dumpsite (at the end of the rainbow), a constant reminder that inspires them to work harder with no complaints.

A man protects himself from the smoke in a graveyard in Akamasoa, a neighborhood founded by people who used to work in the dumpsite. A doctor working here as volunteer reported many cases of pneumonic plague from this area, due to the toxic fog coming from the dumpsite.

Fire burns endlessly in the midst of the hills of garbage, which can reach up to 50 feet in height, and the unnatural landscape is constantly imbued with a toxic fog. Children can't stay for long in that area or they would get their shoes melted by the heat.

The core of the dumpsite is scattered with small tombs, marking the bodies of fetuses and unwanted newborns. The ones who managed to survive, live permanently in the dumpsite as a community of orphaned children: the older look after the younger recently abandoned children. Even objects here start a second life, but they get quite different meanings from before.

Around 3,000 people currently live and work here, collecting plastic (sold for $0.05/ Kg) and metals ($0.50/Kg). Many of them came to Antananarivo hoping to find better living conditions and fortune, now they live in one of the place on Earth with more unreported cases of pneumonic plague, the most infective type of the so called Black Death.