RIO+20: In South Asia, it is survival that counts … not the environment – AJW by The Asahi Shimbun

Migrant workers haul a steel plate with bare hands from a ship under demolition in the suburb of Chittagong, Bangladesh, on April 28. (Satoru Ogawa)

A large freighter that has been beached is being broken up for recycling. Its steel body lies split open, exposed to the elements.

Dozens of workers are busy with acetylene torches, showering sparks everywhere.

A huge chunk of steel is being worked on. The workers, scurrying around barefoot, haul heavy chunks of metal on their backs and in their bare hands.

The shoaling beach extends more than 10 kilometers and is located some 30 km north of Chittagong, the second largest city in Bangladesh.

More than 100 sites are set up as yards to demolish large vessels.

Decommissioned ships are run aground and then hauled to the beach with ropes, much as slaves in ancient Egypt moved huge stone blocks to build the pyramids.

The method is called “beaching.”

The surface of the nearby Bay of Bengal is awash with fuel oil. Parts of the beach are thick with oil, and workers, if they don’t watch their step, can sink in the sand up to their knees.

It is estimated that 70 percent of all big ships decommissioned in the world are demolished in either Bangladesh, India or Pakistan.

Ship breaking has been roundly criticized since around 2000 for the damage it causes to the environment, and the lack of safety provisions for workers–who are paid a pittance for putting in 11-hour days of strenuous, dirty and dangerous work.

At the site near Chittagong, Mohammed Jamal Uddin climbed to the deck of a decommissioned vessel and lamented: “My wage is 25 taka (about 25 yen, or 30 U.S. cents) an hour. I work 11 hours a day. So I can get only 300 taka at most, including overtime money.”

Asked why he chose this line of work, the 42-year-old replied: “I have no choice. We have no (other) jobs because there are too many people in Bangladesh.”

Read the entire article via RIO+20: In South Asia, it is survival that counts … not the environment – AJW by The Asahi Shimbun.