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FEATURE STORY November 18, 2019

Improving Health, Safety, Dignity of Sanitation Workers: A Call To Action

Sanitation workers are vital to the functioning sanitation systems that underpin daily life. They perform an essential public service. Yet this service often comes at the cost of their dignity, safety, health, and living conditions. All photos by Sudharak Olwe. Used with permission.

World Bank Group

As the world moves towards the message of ‘Leave No One Behind’ and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, it becomes pertinent to ensure safely managed sanitation services for all, ensuring the protection of labor rights and providing safe and secure work environments to those who will deliver those essential services.

The World Bank, jointly with WaterAid, ILO and WHO released a report titled The Health, Safety and Dignity of Sanitation Workers – An Initial Assessment to raise awareness about the plight of sanitation workers among all the sanitation sector stakeholders.

The assessment is based on the status of sanitation workers in nine countries – India, Bangladesh, Bolivia, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Uganda, Sengal, Haiti.

There is emerging evidence of good practices and a growing body of actors working to improve sanitation workers’ conditions and rights, albeit in a currently ad hoc and fragmented fashion. To improve the health, safety and dignity of sanitation workers, there needs to be:

  • more concerted and comprehensive efforts by all sector actors, including policy, legislative and regulatory reform,
  • adoption of operational guidelines
  • addressing key knowledge gaps in the area.

The report urges for sanitation workers’ rights to be recognized. Workers need freedom and support to organize as a labor force; and their working conditions need to be improved and progressively formalized to safeguard health and labor rights to ensure decent working conditions, as called for by SDG 8.