Sanitation Workers: ‘Unsung Heroes’ in the fight against COVID 19

3 min read
Sanitation Workers
Image: WaterAid/ CS Sharada Prasad

As we practice social distancing to contribute our bit today, a large strata of our society is working on a war footing against containing this calamity - COVID 19.  These are none other but the silent and diligent sanitation workers!

Numerous blogs and articles which have been written to date have already acknowledged the farsighted, untiring and unprecedented persistent efforts of Government departments, particularly that of the Doctors, healthcare workers and the police personnel. However, the sanitation workers are not given their due. Sanitation workers, waste collectors and other informal workers who along with doctors, healthcare workers are working silently and tirelessly to prevent the spread of this virulent disease. These sanitation warriors maintain clean and healthy surroundings, of course with or without a set of personal protective equipment (PPE). Nevertheless, we all are privy to and, see the stark reality in our daily lives about the lack of PPEs availability for sanitation workers despite being mandated.

Although, various media reports of medical staff getting frequently infected and medical equipment (Ventilators, masks etc.) big bulk purchase orders make headline news, very few reports are actually in the  public domain, which highlight the lack of safety measures taken for our sanitation workers. States and various organizations are developing guidelines and SOPs for this cause but, these are oriented more towards their regular O&M aspects with preventive checks. In most of these documents, the financial allocation and accountability for its implementation are lacking. 

There is no doubt that the sanitation workers and other informal waste collectors who all are working together in these very challenging times, have put their lives on the line and are at par with the Doctors, healthcare workers and police teams. They are the ones who are acting as the frontline of defence against the spread of coronavirus, but we cannot deny the fact that these are also the most vulnerable amongst the trilogy of societal saviours. Therefore, the wellbeing of a sanitation worker in such a difficult situation should be of utmost priority to municipal authorities. Unfortunately, very few municipalities in the country have adequate resources for managing such grave pandemic situations. A package of systemic measures, could easily initiate the necessary actions for these workers. 

Foremost, building the capacities of municipal functionaries to manage, and in particular sensitise sanitation workers to operate in such pandemic circumstances should become institutionalised. Further, regular vaccinations and immunization drives amongst sanitation workers should become routine practice. In addition, a safety net like a dedicated group or individual insurance cover will give them the confidence to soldier on in dire circumstances. These measures will motivate them to discharge their duties with dignity and their immense contribution to society will not only become visible but will start to get acknowledged!  These brave men and women, executing thankless jobs, are indeed the real unsung heroes. It is time that we as a society wake up to respect them for their invaluable role in maintaining a liveable environs!