Emptying of pits and septic tanks is a profession that is poorly paid, dangerous, but vital. Pit and septic tank emptiers are playing an important, and growing, role in keeping cities like Dhaka clean, safe and healthy, by ensuring that waste from toilets is safely collected and transported away from communities so that it can be treated.
But their work is challenging, and emptiers have to face unsafe working conditions, poor pay and a lack of acceptance from other parts of society.
Some 80% of Dhaka’s rapidly growing population – around 12 million people – lacks access to sewered toilets and is therefore dependent on on-site sanitation. Pits and septic tanks have to be emptied to avoid human waste contaminating the local environment, either through overflowing toilets – particularly in the rainy season – or from waste being dumped in nearby rivers and streams.
Across Bangladesh, there are thousands of people working as pit or tank emptiers and in order to tackle the country’s sanitation problems we need this industry to grow, become more effective, and better recognised.
WSUP is supporting efforts to promote improved working conditions for pit and tank emptiers through the FSM Network, set up earlier this year by WSUP, SNV, Practical Action, WaterAid and ITN-BUET.
“We believe that every one of us has a role to play in enabling pit and septic tank emptying to be seen as decent work, by ensuring safe working conditions, fair income, equality, and dignity,” says Abdus Shaheen, WSUP Bangladesh Country Programme Manager. “Some of the top issues outlined by emptiers are: finding ways to make their industry more mainstream in society, and securing fixed rates for their work, to give them more security.”
Last week, we held a Dignity of Septic Tank Emptiers Convention in Dhaka with our FSM Network partners to move forward on these objectives. More than 100 emptiers from across Bangladesh shared how they work, what challenges they face and what others need to do to improve their industry.
Some of these operators were from small-scale businesses – using manual emptying and transportation on carts to navigate through small inner-city alleys – and some were from larger businesses, which use vacuum tankers in areas that are accessible to vehicles – presented their experiences. One of the larger businesses present was SWEEP, a public-private partnership created by WSUP which operates in Dhaka and is in the process of expanding to Chittagong.
Md Raju Shikder (pictured, above, speaking at the conference), works for SWEEP. Before working with SWEEP, he used to work as a part-time manual pit emptier; since joining SWEEP his life has improved, through increased salary, the provision of protective clothing, and training to help him become more professional.
WSUP is improving working conditions in a number of ways, including:
- Supporting the selection of appropriate pit and tank emptying technology;
- Providing technical and capacity building training to emptiers;
- Providing occupational safety and health training to operators/emptiers;
- Providing vaccinations for the emptiers;
- Distributing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) among the emptiers;
- Creation of demand for pit and tank emptying services;
- Facilitating access to finance for sanitation entrepreneurs to encourage business growth.Take a look at our poster, “Trialling Sanitation Solutions to address Citywide Faecal Sludge Management “, for more on how we are improving sanitation in areas of Dhaka which lack sewered connections.
Read more about WSUP’s work in Bangladesh hre.