Sanitation workers: The forgotten frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic

Posted by
WaterAid India
WaterAid/ Anindito Mukherjee

On World Toilet Day, a new study from WaterAid shows how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the already horrendous conditions for sanitation workers across the world.

Sanitation workers provide an essential service: clearing and disposing of human waste. But they are often marginalised, undervalued and unsupported. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the awful working conditions many face – working longer hours without adequate personal protective equipment, suitable training, financial support or legal protection.

Sanitation workers include those who empty latrine pits and septic tanks, who clean toilets and sewers, operate pumping stations and treatment plants, as well as those who clear human waste manually, such as solid waste workers, cleaners and transporters.

Research carried out by WaterAid at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic shows that 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.

This report includes new case studies from Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Tanzania which highlight the effects of COVID-19 and the many other challenges faced by sanitation workers.