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Covid pandemic exacerbates vulnerabilities of sanitation workforce: WaterAid

Published : Monday, 22 November, 2021 at 9:23 PM  Count : 629

Covid pandemic exacerbates vulnerabilities of sanitation workforce: WaterAid

Covid pandemic exacerbates vulnerabilities of sanitation workforce: WaterAid

Many sanitation workers in developing countries are largely unsupported, unprotected and undervalued. Many are shunned for the work they do. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a direct impact on their livelihoods, with many working longer hours or taking on increased risks without compensation, while others have lost their income completely, shows a new report of WaterAid.

The report titled “Sanitation workers: The forgotten frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemics” says during the COVID-19 pandemic many sanitation workers have worked on the frontline – throughout national lockdowns, in hospitals, quarantine centres and in the heart of communities – with poor access to safe water, decent sanitation and good hygiene facilities.
Even without the threat of the virus, sanitation work is hazardous. The workforce risk being exposed to a wide variety of health hazards and disease and can often come into direct contact with human waste. Sharp objects in pit latrines and poor construction can cause injury and infection while toxic gases can make workers lose consciousness or even kill them, says the report.

Kona Nagmoni Lata, 34, a street sweeper from Bangladesh, said: “Sometimes, I come into contact with human faeces in my work, but I can only wipe it off with a cloth. There are no handwashing stations where I work so I have to wait to go back to the office to wash my hands.”

The findings of the report highlighted cases from South Asia, Burkina Faso and Nigeria.

Tim Wainwright, WaterAid Chief Executive, said, “WASH services are critical to maintaining public health and will be fundamental to surviving and recovering from the pandemic, and future pandemics - but without sanitation workers, these services will not function. It’s important we invest and support the workforce, not just for the sake of public health but also for the economy - to ensure universal access to decent sanitation and a better future for all.”

Hasin Jahan, country director of WaterAid Bangladesh said, “Sanitation and waste workers in the society lack recognition for their profession. They face social stigma, economic hardships and are also deprived of healthcare facilities, even though they are most prone to illness due to their work in the most unhygienic conditions. It is time to ensure their proper healthcare.

“Along with government, private sectors, development organisations and community partners should work together to drive health and promote insurance and social security to ensure the rights of sanitation and waste workers.

WaterAid Bangladesh is actively working with the government and key partners to ensure rights for sanitation workers are realised; most recently advocating for sanitation workers to be given priority access to a COVID-19 vaccination.

Several vaccine registration points were set up in key places across the country to ensure waste and sanitation workers were not overlooked in the rollout, with mobile registration booths and follow-ups carried out to ensure the vaccine was administered.  

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