In Picture: Scavenging to survive in Venezuela

An economic crisis has driven many Venezuelans into the sewage-strewn waters of the Guaire River in search of valuables.

In Picture: Scavenging to survive in Venezuela

An economic crisis has driven many Venezuelans into the sewage-strewn waters of the Guaire River in search of valuables.

14 October 2017 Saturday 12:40
In Picture: Scavenging to survive in Venezuela

Three to four small groups share the riverbed within fewer than 100 metres, surrounded by rubbish and plastic bags swept downriver. They say they do not fight over territory and that anyone who wants to work is welcome to join them.

Augusto and Tomas sift through the rubbish they have collected in the sewers at the Guaire River, searching for pieces of gold and silver. 'We chose this part of the river because it has easier access and it isn't too deep. We usually work in a group, we are five people, and what we get is shared among all of us,' Tomas explains.

Augusto, Tomas and Vladimir look for gold and other valuable items among the rubbish they have collected and filtered through the river water. They make piles, which they will carefully search for anything valuable.

Augusto examines a piece of metal to find out if it is gold. He is 21 years old and married with one son. He has been working in the Guaire River for four years.

Augusto shows the pieces of gold that his group found in a day's work. 'Gold gets 180,000 bolivars [$18,008] per gram and that is what we can get in five or six hours of work. We mainly find earrings and chains,' he said. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has recently increased the minimum wage to 250,000 bolivars ($25,000) a month, in order to cope with inflation. The bolivar is officially pegged to the US dollar, but the country's severe social and economic crisis has caused its currency to devalue severely in the informal market. The cost of living has soared. One kilo of meat costs a third of the minimum wage, while a loaf of bread can cost 10,000 bolivars ($1,000).

Adriana looks for food inside a rubbish bag while a friend holds her daughter. The baby's skin is covered in scabs - a sign of malnutrition, and a lack of hygiene. 'I know the quality of the food by its smell and colour,' Adriana explains as she separates pieces of fruit and roast chicken.

A man drinks the remains of milk left in a bottle he found while looking for food in the rubbish. 'You can find anything in the trash, it gives us everything,' says one young man.

A group of homeless people live under a bridge by the Francisco Fajardo highway near the Guaire River.

German, a homeless man, cooks food under the bridge where he lives with five other people.

German and a friend under the bridge where they live beside the highway and close to the river.

Ines looks at the Guaire River from under the bridge. The area is called Bello Monte (Beautiful Mountain) but the lives of those living here do not match the name.

German crouches down to access a room under the bridge. 'I used to live down there, by the river, I had a kitchen and a woman, I could have a bath … but insects bit me and the woman left me for another man. Now I feel comfortable, but not better than at home,' he says.

Ines helps a friend down from the bridge where they live. To reach the bridge they must climb one of the pillars that supports the highway, momentarily hanging in the air five metres above the river


Updated: 14.10.2017 13:20
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