Matthew Power [1974-2014] was an award-winning freelance print and radio journalist and a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine.

The Magic Mountain: Trickle-down economics in a Philippine garbage dump

Harper's Magazine  |  December 2006


featured in Best American Travel Writing 2007  

finalist for the Livingston Award for International Reporting

... Like most of the outside world, I had first heard of Payatas, the fifty-acre dumpsite on Quezon City’s northern boundary, when it flashed briefly across headlines in July 2000. Little else besides people dying in great numbers on a slow news day will bring notice to a place like this. After weeks of torrential rains spawned by a pair of typhoons, a hundredfoot mountain of garbage gave way and thundered down onto a neighborhood of shanties built in its shadow. The trash, accumulated over three decades, had been piled up to a 70-degree angle, and the rain-saturated mountain had collapsed. Hundreds of people were killed, buried alive in an avalanche of waste. That most of the victims made a living scavenging from the pile itself rendered the tragedy a dark parable of the new millennium, a symptom of the thousand social and economic ills that plague the developing world. I knew that the scavengers had continued living and working at the site even after the disaster, and thinking there was some human truth to be dug from underneath the sorry facts, I wanted to see Payatas for myself. ... [pdf]

Q&A with Steven Johnson, author of The Ghost Map

Exploring the New Nicaragua