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PHOTO ESSAY: How Manila’s slum-dwellers eek out a charcoal living

This powerful and poignant photo essay about the dirty business of scavenging for charcoal in Manila’s slums appeared today on National Geographic online. The Charcoal Project is quoted on the second page.

This being the UN-declared Year of Sustainable Energy for All, we hope policy-makers and all those pushing for clean fuels in the developing world will look into the eyes of this little girl and remember that solar and wind are not the only solutions. The world needs clean charcoal, too.

A big thank you to reporter Jeff Smith, the amazing photographers, and National Geographic. You can view the slideshow on the National Geographic website by clicking on the photo below.

"No Birthdays" (Photograph by Hartmut Schwarzbach) This soot-covered girl was six years old when the photo was taken, but she didn't know her exact birthday, according to photographer Hartmut Schwarzbach of Argus Fotoarchiv. She had yet to go to school, and instead was searching for scrap metal to help her family. They live near an area where tires are being burned.


  1. This article will continue to inspire me to work hard and help the environment especially the people in the urban/poor areas in the Philippines who are affected by this problem. I also hope that they will learn to accept charcoal briquettes as well and I hope that the government will do something about it.

  2. Dave Bockmann says:

    Yes we can.
    I’ve been working with this community; met many of these children. The conditions are unbelievably bad, just as described. By age 12, their health will be irreversibly ruined. Few long term residents live beyond the age of 45.
    I was surprised to find that despite stories like this and innumerable pictures and videos posted on Flickr and YouTube no one seems to have thought to find a “clean” way to make the charcoal. So, a few month ago, I set out to find one. The good news is, with a partner organization, Urban Poor Associates, we have found a design for kilns that are “smokeless.”
    However, in the next few months, the Ulingan will be bulldozed and the 300 families “relocated.” The new site is in Bulacan, about an hour north of Manila. There are small houses–37 sq meters per family– but there’s no electricity, water, paved roads, schools and worst of all–no jobs.
    We are trying to get the National Housing Authority to find land near the relocation site so we can construct the new kilns there.
    We’ll also help form a worker/producer cooperative to own and operate the new kilns, and hopefully, find additional livelihood enterprises so everyone can have a job. Perhaps, manufacturing and marketing smokeless charcoal stoves is a possibility.
    One kiln of the new design, can replace 10 of the primitive ones now in use and costs only $3,000. Not much really, but way beyond the means of these people.
    If you’d like to give us a hand with this project, let me know.

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