When Construction Comes With a Hidden Cost

In Mozambique, the trade in surplus cement causes lung disease, but many have no way out.

(Photo: Mário Macilau for One.org)

Nov 26, 2014· 1 MIN READ
TakePart fellow Jessica Dollin studied journalism at the University of Arizona. She has written for the Phoenix New Times and HerCampus.
One.org is an international campaigning and advocacy organization of nearly 6 million people taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.

In the Southeast African nation of Mozambique, survival can be a daily struggle, and many are forced into dangerous or illegal work. Among such jobs is collecting excess cement from manufacturing and construction sites in the capital, Maputo, for resale at street markets. Cement dust settles in the lungs, fostering scar tissue that inhibits breathing and increases chances of developing an incurable lung disease known as silicosis, which can cause tuberculosis. Many men, women, and children in Maputo will nevertheless undergo such risk—to earn less than a dollar a day.

Photographer Mário Macilau, born and raised in Mozambique, decided to document those working in the illegal cement bagging operations in his 2013 series, The Price of Cement. Subjects are featured in stark black-and-white photographs that highlight the cement dust covering their faces and bodies.

“I do believe in the power of a still image to educate, inform, and to alert," he said. "My aim is always to give attention to the subjects that have been hidden in our society over time.”

Macilau believes Mozambican society ignores public health problems stemming from the cement industry because of the better-paying factory jobs it enables. In the same way that the ability to sell low-grade meat byproducts as dog food makes steaks and hamburgers cheaper, cement collectors provide a service to industry.

Macilau's form of activism is enabling people to see problems through photography.

“I hope my images work better as witness of this subject," he said. "People can see, think, reflect, and bring solutions with their actions.” By capturing haunting images of children at risk of contracting silicosis, he believes things will change.

(Photo: Mário Macilau for One.org)

In South Africa, where silicosis is more prevalent, a few companies are addressing the problem. AngloGold Ashanti, the third-largest producer of metal in South Africa, and four other mining companies are considering offering compensation and medical treatment for miners who have contracted lung disease on the job.

(Photo: Mário Macilau for One.org)