Thousands of urban slum dwellers, in the Ulingan community in the Philippines capital of Manila, live amid filth and swirls of toxic smoke as they eke out a living making charcoal from wood scavenged from nearby garbage dumps and construction sites. The smell of the dense sea, burning charcoal, and decaying waste combined greets one at the mouth of the village, foreshadowing what is to be a more extreme condition within the community.
The conditions of slums near Manila Bay are unhealthy enough—the Ulingans live next to a rubbish dump. But the rudimentary process of making charcoal in open pits exposes the squatters to harmful emissions such as carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, and soot, as well as chemicals when burning treated wood. The result is a myriad of respiratory illnesses and heart disease. Estimates suggest that 60% of the population has tuberculosis while other lung problems and water-borne diseases are commonplace.
The children work without protective masks, gloves, or boots. Some are naked. They work and play in thick toxic smoke, dragging soggy scraps of wood to burn and scavenge for nails and other bits for small payments.
Ulingan itself is riddled with rotting food, clothes, magazines, stuffed animals, sharp and dangerous wires and metals, and anything else imaginable. Groups of children scour areas of ash and soot searching for lucrative metal left exposed by continual burn off. Makeshift shelters constructed from tarpaulin and plastic are strewn across the landscape.
More than 2.7 billion people worldwide cook on wood, charcoal, dung, coal, or agricultural residues on simple traditional stoves or open fires, and 1.4 billion have no access to electricity at all. The vast majority of the world's energy-poor people live in Asia and the Pacific islands.