DAMASCUS — Maher knows more about trash than a nine-year-old should know.
"Some of it stinks more than others," he says, chuckling at his own remarks. "At first I used to feel like I was about to faint before I finished my job, but I got used to it."
It’s not unusual in different areas in and around Damascus to see children and sometimes older men or women climbing into garbage cans, foraging for scraps of food. Passersby often turn their faces away from the scene. The young children who collect goods from the garbage can are often insulted or beaten by their peers, who ridicule their digging and the mess they create around the garbage cans.
Raef, also nine, digs into the trash with his brother. They work as a team – they call it a gang – and manage to pick out the best pieces of trash on offer. “If I alone don’t bring useful stuff to sell, my father will hit me,” Raef said.
What do they do with this garbage? “Sometimes we find something to eat," said Maher.
He explains how they separate and categorize each item: bread, plastics, clothes, shoes, and even vegetables, leftovers, and food materials that only sheep would eat. " We collect all of these and sell them to people that could make use of them by selling them to other people or by using them.”
He says the people who buy the items usually recycle them, for example, plastic and iron cans are fused to make other objects. Although he refused to join the conversation at first, Maher's brother Zuhair later commented with anger: “Most of those buyers are exploiters. They buy things from us for very cheap prices, but we have to sell to them because we want to live.”
As for Raef, who came with his family from al-Hussienia to al-Barde too, he says: “I quit school from the second grade, I was lazy he laughs, and I don’t like school anyway, and I don’t like this job either, but I had to work after my father’s car was stolen. My father was a taxi driver, and his car was our source of living, and he was once beaten by the police before us because they accused him of joining the Free Army, and they then found out that he was innocent of this charge.”
Too many to control
Raef adds: “My father became too afraid to leave home, he feared that if he did, he might be accused again or get taken at army checkpoints. I must work so we can eat."
Raef's father has a drinking problem and gets rough with his mother and younger brothers. But he rarely beats Raef, because his foraging brings the family a trickle of income. The family lives in a small room in an unfinished building; they can’t afford more space.
The children foraging through dumpsters rarely get to study or play. Also, they live in fear of a stronger scavenger assaulting and robbing them. "They live by the laws of the streets, the strongest among them rules," explains Manal, a Syrian social worker based in Damascus. "Often there is a "tax" to pay, and normally it’s an amount of money, or a gift offered regularly to someone who protects them in one way or another."
One Damascus attorney, who didn't want to give his full name, recalls the ‘anti-begging and unemployment’ patrols of the past. "They used to catch these children and investigate their parents or whoever encouraged them to perform this job," said the lawyer. "But now with the current crisis, there are too many."
With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.
CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.
Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.
It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.
Abundant sunshine, low temperatures
The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.
Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.
It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.
Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park
Chinese want to expand
The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.
The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.
The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.
The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.
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