COVID-19 exacerbated already horrendous conditions for sanitation workers – Study


New studies by WaterAid reveal COVID-19 has exacerbated already horrendous conditions for sanitation workers around the world.

During the pandemic, sanitation workers have been praised as “COVID warriors” in some nations but WaterAid has found that many of the workers in developing countries have been “forgotten, underpaid, unprotected and left to fend for themselves.”

A statement issued in Accra by WaterAid, said research carried out at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic on the safety and wellbeing of those who cleared and disposed of faecal waste, revealed hazardous working conditions, a dangerous lack of PPE, poor training and legal protection, as well as loss of income for millions.

It said findings from South Asia, Burkina Faso and Nigeria showed that 40 per cent of sanitation workers interviewed in India and 39 per cent interviewed in Bangladesh lacked any handwashing facilities at work.

The statement said one third of sanitation workers interviewed in Nepal did not receive any PPE from their employers, while 80 per cent of sanitation workers in Burkina Faso thought the PPE they were given was unsuitable and even made accidents more likely.

It said more than one third of workers in Bangladesh feared losing their jobs if they stopped working during the lockdown.

“Around half of the respondents (66 per cent in Bangladesh; 44 per cent in India; 50 per cent in Pakistan; 61 per cent in Nepal) reported challenges in meeting their daily expenses. 48% of sanitation workers interviewed in Bangladesh saw their incomes reduced during the pandemic,” it said.

The statement said sanitation workers included people who cleaned toilets and sewers, empty latrine pits and septic tanks and operated pumping stations and treatment plants as well as those who cleared faecal waste manually, swept rubbish and transported faecal sludge.

It said WaterAid’s findings also included solid waste workers and cleaners.

The research also said despite providing a vital service ensuring human waste was cleared, stored and disposed of safely, WaterAid found sanitation workers were often marginalised, stigmatised and shunned as a result of their job.

“Many have worked on the frontline of the pandemic, throughout national lockdowns, in hospitals and quarantine centres and in the heart of communities with poor access to safe water, decent sanitation and good hygiene facilities,” it added.

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