Published:  08:21 PM, 24 July 2020

Covid cornering the waste workers

Covid cornering the waste workers

42% Female waste workers faced any sorts of violence at home like verbal abuse (35.1%), increased unpaid care work burden forcefully (20.6%), physical torture (5.2%). 2.1% of them had faced sexual abuse. Around 48% of general waste workers are experiencing income reduction while 71 % are experiencing an expenditure upsurge. Access to water, sanitation and hygiene in health care facilities still remains as a challenge towards achieving universal health and WASH coverage for all citizens, as almost all of them lacks improved toilets at their premises.

Bangladesh Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) Network revealed this on ground reality in a webinar on Thursday (Jul 23, 2020), while sharing the findings of four studies done by Practical Action, SNV Netherlands Development Organization, WaterAid Bangladesh and Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP). Experts shed light on the most unheard voices and the needs of frontline waste and sanitation workers whose work does not end ever to make the city clean and safe for us.

The webinar, titled Impact of COVID-19 on Waste and Sanitation Frontliners, focused on the current situation, impact, challenges and possible way forwards, they tried to bring out the actual scenario of WASH in health care facilities, the impact of COVID-19 on pit emptying business, city sanitation system and overall risks and vulnerabilities sanitation workers are in in this pandemic.

While discussing the immediate impact of coronavirus on waste workers in Gazipur city corporation and 9 other municipalities in Bangladesh, Dr. Shawkat A. Begum, Bangladesh Country Director of Practical Action said “Since the pandemic outbroke, more than half of the waste workers borrowed money from others as they are running short of income sources. Eight of every 10 female waste workers were unable to manage their menstrual hygiene and faced difficulties to maintain hygiene at workplace.

Aiming at understanding policy environment and current WASH situation and practice in health care facilities, SNV Netherlands Development Organisation conducted a study in WASH in Health Care Facilities: Policy review, Stakeholders’ Mapping and Baseline Census of Six Cities. According to that study around one third of the health care stations have functional toilets with no cleanliness and privacy. More than 20% have no hand washing solutions and 59% have no facilities for menstrual hygiene management. WASH Sector Leader of SNV in Bangladesh, Marc Perez Casas, said “we expect that the outcome of this study will help to advocate the relevant authorities in developing WASH action plan for their healthcare facilities with greater understanding and appropriate responses.”

“while movements of citizens are mostly restricted in Bangladesh, waste workers are continuously protecting their communities, dealing with waste collection and management, cleaning public places, and maintaining sanitation services. Their work requires them to move across different areas and in high-risk settings including health care facilities, and in quarantine and containment zones. 37% workers lack knowledge about where or how to access treatment if they get symptoms or test positive. 39% workers do not have access to handwashing facilities at work. And, surprisingly, 23% medical cleaners do not wash hands after helping a patient, which poses both personal and public infection risk.” Said by Hasin Jahan, Country Director of WaterAid Bangladesh while discussing their study on risk and vulnerability of waste workers during COVID-19 pandemic.

“This socially and economically marginalised group is already living in congested colonies, slums or low-income informal settlements with limited access to basic services, further escalating their vulnerability during this pandemic.” She added.

The study conducted by WSUP investigated the drastic silence of service demand and the impact of the changes of city dwellers’ socio-economic behaviour on current demand generation strategy. This pandemic has changed the landscape of sanitation business. Apart from downsizing the demand & profit, the pandemic has pushed the waste and sanitation workers to re-think about their businesses.

Country Programme Manager of WSUP, Abdus Shaheen said “Our study unveiled the business barriers due to Covid-19 and the entrepreneurs’ plan to cope with the new normal. We observed that the demand for pit-emptying has reduced drastically up to 80% while their expenditure in last two months crossed 162% of the monthly earning from the sanitation business.”

Among the others Professor Dr. Tanvir Ahmed, Director of ITN-BUET, Dewan Kamal Ahmed, President, Municipal Association of Bangladesh (MAB) and Mayor, Nilphamari Municipality discussed the different aspects of the impact of COVID-19 on waste and sanitation workers in the webinar.FSM Network Bangladesh’s webinar was moderated by Advocacy and Development Communications Specialist Gunjan Barua. 

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