Dignity for Idris Mollah

Idris Mollah has been a sanitation worker in Faridpur for more than 12 years.  For most of that time he and his family have been treated as social outcasts because of his work. His work is hard and very unpleasant.  This is how he describes the moment when he opens a pit to empty the contents.

"We open the cover and tap it and gas gushes out. We tap it again to let all the gas come out and back off. When all the gas is out, we open it. We sit together and wait for the residual gas to leave. When all the gas is gone, we don’t hear any sounds. If someone goes down, we help them. Our eyes sting down there so we can’ stay for long. When the gas leaves entirely, we pull our worker back."

The gas in the pit  is toxic so workers have to be careful not to inhale it. Practical Action has been working with the local authority in Faridpur to organise the safe disposal of faecal sludge and to dignify the lives of the workers. Significant improvements have been made to their working conditions with the supply of protective clothing, the formation of a cooperative with a municipal contract to carry out this essential work and the provision of mechanical gulpers and tankers to extract and remove the waste.

But life has changed for Idris since Faridpur installed a fully-functioning faecal sludge treatment plant  24 m3 per day. The sweepers of Faridpur have formed cooperatives and now operate as formal businesses with contracts with the municipality. This enables them to share the work out equitably between their members, acquire health and safety equipment.  Their increased income and new official status, boosted by a city wide communication campaign,  has uncreased their status and social acceptance.  Testing of the compost made from dried sludge is underway to make sure it is safe to handle and use for farming in local markets.

Respect, dignity and inclusiveness were the key to developing a sustainable model along with ensuring stakeholder engagement and leadership.  Previously social contact with others was very difficult.

"Some places we work in provide no water to clean ourselves. We are asked to go to the river or stream to get ourselves cleaned. The shops don’t provide us water as well. They don’t want to serve us tea. Because of of the vacutag truck, we don’t stink anymore. We are all a bit better because of the truck.”

Urban faecal sludge management

Replicating city faecal sludge management systems in Bangladesh

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In Bangladesh, around six million people are involved in managing solid waste, faecal sludge, and trading and recycling inorganic wastes. Known as sweepers, these workers are socially excluded because of their profession.

In 2015 alone, there were 31 reported deaths of pit emptiers in work-related accidents in Southern Bangladesh. Wages are low as there is no set rate for freelance pit and septic tank emptying services.


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