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Health, dignity of sanitation workers at risk –Report

Sanitation work is often informal and workers have no rights or social protections. Pay can be inconsistent or non-existent – some workers report being paid in food rather than money. Plus the work is often socially stigmatized. PHOTO via @WHO

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT  | The plight of sanitation workers in the developing world should be addressed urgently, the World Health Organisation has said ahead of World Toilet Day next Tuesday. The Health agency observed that the rights, health and dignity of people who clean toilets, sewers and septic tanks are at risk.

The World Health Organization (WHO) insisted that while the workforce performs an essential public service, their own health is compromised and they are often shunned.

“Workers often come into direct contact with human waste, working with no equipment or protection to remove it by hand, which expose them to a long list of health hazards and diseases”, WHO said in a statement accompanying a new report on the health, safety and dignity of sanitation workers.

The publication produced jointly with the International Labor Organization (ILO), The World Bank and WaterAid examines nine case studies of sanitation workers in low and middle-income countries, who empty pits and tanks, transport faecal sludge and perform sewer maintenance.

It describes the workforce as “invisible, unquantified, and ostracized” and insists that many of the challenges that sanitation workers face stem from a lack of visibility in society and the failure to acknowledge what they do.

“It is only when those critical services fail, when society is confronted with faecal waste in ditches, streets, rivers, and beaches or occasional media reports of sanitation worker deaths, that the daily practice and plight of sanitation workers come to light,” it maintains.

The UN agency is now calling for the protection of sanitation workers to be included in national sanitation policies and risk-assessment and management in order to ensure that governments provide clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene for everyone, everywhere by 2030.

Because of poor investment and infrastructure, millions of people including children die every year from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene. According to WHO, poor sanitation alone causes up to 432,000 diarrheal deaths annually, and it is also linked to the transmission of other diseases including cholera, dysentery, typhoid, hepatitis A and polio.

The report also highlights the hazardous biological and chemical agents they encounter in dangerous environments, noting that safe sanitation must go hand in hand with dignified working environment for those who run and maintain the sanitation services that protect our health.

World Toilet Day, celebrated on November 19, every year, is about inspiring action to tackle the global sanitation crisis and help achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, which promises sanitation for all by 2030.

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