New Delhi, India: Mansoor Khan and his wife Latifa Bibi (pictured below) have been collecting scraps of plastic and other items at an enormous landfill site on the outskirts of New Delhi for nearly 20 years.

Bibi helps her husband carry home a sack of recyclable materials.


The $5 daily earnings enable their three children to go to school, in search of a better future than their parents' lives amid the stench of rotting garbage.

But over the past few months, increasing amounts of biomedical waste have been arriving at the dump - a result, experts say, of the novel coronavirus pandemic and a huge risk for those who work there.

Rubbish bags stand inside a landfill site near a residential area.


Spread over 52 acres and rising more than 60 metres, the site is littered with used, plastic coronavirus test kits, protective gear and cotton stained with blood and pus – among hundreds of tonnes of waste coming daily from across the Indian capital, including small hospitals and nursing homes.

A young waste collector waits for a truck to offload rubbish onto a landfill site.


Sifting with bare hands, hundreds of scavengers including children expose themselves to a disease that has infected more than 15 million people globally and claimed over 600,000 lives.

Discarded syringes lie amongst other bits of disposed medical waste at a landfill site.

A COVID-19 testing kit lies on the floor at a landfill site.


India has reported almost 1.2 million cases overall, behind only the United States and Brazil.

Khan, 44, is aware of the dangers but feels he has little choice.

Khan eats breakfast with his son Latif outside their house which is next to a landfill.


"What if we die? What if we get this disease? But fear will not fill our bellies, that is why we have to do this work," he told Reuters, standing outside his two-room concrete house at the foot of the garbage mountain.

Bibi looks for recyclable materials.


Bibi, 38, said she was worried about bringing the infection home to the couple's children, aged 16, 14 and 11.

"When I return from there, I feel afraid to enter my house because I have children at home. We are really afraid of this disease," she said.

Waste collectors look for recyclable materials at a landfill site.


Dinesh Raj Bandela, an expert in biomedical waste at the Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment, said there are clear protocols set by the national pollution regulator to dispose of biomedical waste.

But they are not always being followed during the outbreak, he said, putting those who sift through landfills at risk of contracting coronavirus and other diseases, ranging from hepatitis to HIV.

Neither the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, which runs the dump, nor India's Central Pollution Control Board, immediately replied to requests for comment.

A man wearing personal protective equipment pushes a trolley containing medical waste bags to a Bio-Medical Waste storage area.


According to Bandela, the Indian capital used to produce nearly 600 tonnes of medical waste a day, but that has risen by 100 since the virus hit.

Photo Credit : Adnan Abidi