Dar practising tourism casual labour Desperate conditions facing Kilimanjaro porters have been highlighted again in the Western media. PAUL REDFERN reports THE EAST AFRICAN Western tourists are being asked to reconsider charity fund-raising climbs on Mount Kilimanjaro amid growing evidence of the poor treatment of porters forced to carry their heavy packs to the summit. The issue of pay, conditions and medical treatment available to the porters who carry the tourists packs has been raised in the past by aid agencies and campaign organisations, but few who travel to Tanzania to attempt the 19,340-foot mountain have been aware of this. Now questions are being raised as to whether or not the climbing tours should continue until pay and conditions for the porters and guides who ply the mountain all year long improve. The London-based Times newspaper said that around 20 guides and porters die on Kilimanjaro every year, double the number of tourists who die attempting the peak. Around 25,000 people attempt Africas highest mountain each year, with its appeal based on the fact that it is the tallest summit in the world that can be climbed without ropes or technical mountain skills. However, it is still a hugely demanding climb, with six out of every 10 climbers failing to make the summit. But for the porters who carry the tourists equipment up the mountain every day, the consequences are even more dire. The oldest porter still taking tourists up Mount Kilimanjaro today is 32. Most men are physically exhausted by their daily exertions well before this. Pay, though adequate by Tanzanian standards, is still poor at around $3 a day, says the paper. Some travel companies who organise summit tours do not even pay the porters at all, meaning that the men are reliant on tourist tips. Moreover, the mountain porters must fund their own equipment to climb the peak, often paying up to $30 for secondhand clothes considered by climbing experts to be inadequate for the task. Some porters sleep in shelters that give them little or no protection from the elements as they climb while the Western tourists they work for sleep in luxury A-frame huts. Little medical care is available for the porters or guides if they become ill and too little time is allowed for acclimatisation between each climb. Western travel companies are said to routinely employ doctors to care for their guests but not the guides or porters. One UK doctor, describing the situation as exploitation, found snow-blindness prevalent among the porters, few of whom have sunglasses, hats or gloves. The plight of the Kilimanjaro porters is one of those quiet scandals that no one likes talking about, least of all the companies that organise the lucrative trips, writes Melanie Reid in the Times. By Western standards, what is happening there represents the kind of exploitation stopped on [Mount] Everest some years ago. The 20 or so guides and porters who die on Kilimanjaro every year do so from altitude sickness, hypothermia and pneumonia brought on by inadequate equipment and the relentless, competitive pressure to keep working. By the time these young men reach their 30s, they are finished; their bodies burnt out by the pounding they take. But with tourists having to raise a minimum of £2,500 ($3,500) in sponsorship to attempt the climb and support a charity of their choice, campaigners are asking where is the justice for the men who support them to do this. Kilimanjaro raises the universal issues of tourism casual labour, viable wages and exploitation, Ms Reid writes. But it also demands urgent debate about how, in the playing of these supposedly philanthropic games in the developing world, we behave like the worst kind of colonials from a past era.