Unsafe and undignified – the plight of sanitation workers


Sanitation workers: The men and women
who empty pits and septic tanks, clean toilets, sewers and manholes, and operate pumping stations
and treatment plants provide a fundamental public service. Yet they often face extreme health
hazards and safety risks on the job. In many developing countries, they are informal workers
with no legal protections or rights. With a lack of visibility in society, they can be stigmatized,
marginalized and ignored. KAVERAPPA – SOUTH ASIA My work might be disgusting,
but I always keep myself clean. I do not have any bad habits,
I don’t drink alcohol. I always wash myself
thoroughly after work, and before eating
or drinking anything. These days, everyone
asks us to use safety gear, particularly shoes and gloves, but you cannot work wearing those. It is not easy to get into
or climb out of the pit if we wear shoes or gloves. I have never had any
health problems or accidents. However, I do know of people
who have died during sewer cleaning. One of the people I know
was inside a manhole, trying to unblock it. As soon as he unblocked it,
the manhole started to fill up. Fortunately, his friends were standing above
the ground right outside the manhole. They pulled him out
before he drowned. SENZI DUMAKUDE – SOUTHERN AFRICA
We are the blockage crew. We work with the sewer. If the customer maybe
made a complaint, then we go there, out there, and we open the manholes
if it’s overflowing, and then we have to do
the unblocking. As a woman, what I did like is getting to know,
or having an understanding of the flowing of sewage
from the toilets, aboard the lines, having that as a woman,
it’s big to me. JUMA NG’OMBO – EAST AFRICA
We use the machines to enter the toilets
and take out the liquid waste, and then we dispose of it. When we are collecting
the liquid waste, we protect ourselves
by wearing gloves, boots, masks, and using sanitizers. When doing this work, it’s very important
to protect your own health, so you can avoid getting sick. I feel good about my work because
the communities are very happy. I’m able to support my family. My children are able to go to school. JULIUS CHISENGO – EAST AFRICA
My first training for this job was on entrepreneurship because you can’t work
without knowing the job. We started to educate people, we taught them not to empty
their latrine in the old way, because we have equipment we can use. I’m really happy
when people understand the city will be clean
and diseases will go down… we are working
in a difficult environment. Touching the sludge of the people,
it needs a lot of courage. INOUSSA OUEDRAOGO – WEST AFRICA We face a lot of difficulties
in our work, even to have a place
to unload is complicated. To find a means of transport to go dump faecal sludge
is a real problem. Work tools also constitute
another difficulty. The barrels, the shovels,
and the pickaxes, it’s difficult to have them. And when you have them,
they’re not durable, because the fecal sludge gnaws
at them and damages them quickly. If the sludge can damage such
materials that are rubber or iron, what about the bodies of those
who enter the pit to empty them? If you say that the work is dirty,
I answer you, there’s no dirty work,
there are only dirty problems. In our thinking,
we are like other workers, the only difference
is in our workplace. ALL PHOTOGRAPHS
COMMISSIONED BY WATERAID. PHOTOGRAPHS BY: C. S. SHARADA PRASAD
NYANI QUARMYNE JAMES KIYIMBA
BASILE OUEDRAOGO LEARN MORE ABOUT
IMPROVING THE HEALTH, SAFETY AND DIGNITY
OF SANITATION WORKERS. www.worldbank.org/sanitationworkers

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About the Author: Oren Garnes

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