Editor’s Note: For the last month, the Freshwater Action Network South Asia (FANSA), WaterAid and WSSCC have facilitated national level consultation meetings with marginalized communities to identify key issues and messages to be represented at SACOSAN, the South Asian Conference on Sanitation and Hygiene, which takes place 10-14 April 2018 in Islamabad, Pakistan. This blog provides insights on the consultation in Maldives.
By Mohammad Rashid Bari, Chairperson, Watercare
In preparation for SACOSAN VII, Watercare conducted a consultation with sanitation workers in the Maldives in collaboration with the Freshwater Action Network South Asia (FANSA), WaterAid, the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) and the Ministry and Environment and Energy on 15 March 2018.
The many participants reflected on the current practices amongst sanitation workers in the Maldives and identified the following major challenges: the lack of appropriate legislation and standards ensuring the occupational safety and health of sanitation workers, the lack of provision of protective safety gears to workers, the lack of budgeting to ensure provision of the necessary tools for the job as well as low investment in education and training of sanitation workers to promote safe practices.
It is unfortunate that those who are responsible for keeping our cities clean are routinely exposed to unhygienic conditions themselves.
Faiga Umar, a community mobilizer and currently the president of the Women’s Development Committee (WDC) of Adh. Dhangethi (a rural community of about 1200 people in the central part of the Maldives) was one of the participants of this meeting. For a number of years Faiga was actively involved in the collection and burning of waste on the island. This was practiced without any safety or protective gear, or without any steps to sort the different kinds of waste to minimize harm.
“Sometimes there would be explosions and we would stand at a distance to avoid physical harm. We didn’t have any gear to protect ourselves from the smoke, either. We didn’t know any better then,” she shared.
Aminath Ameena, another sanitation worker narrated, “I clean the toilets at the school. We don’t use masks, gloves, or even any special footwear. Never thought they were important.”
Sanitation workers in the Maldives are a diverse group consisting of people from both the sexes, different nationalities as well as different technical abilities. While the experiences of the various groups involved in sanitation work vary depending on whether they are currently working in a more organized private sector or in the informal sector (working individually or as group in the community, taking turns for picking waste, sorting, burning, burying, etc.), experiences such as Faiga’s or Ameena’s are neither unique nor isolated. Furthermore, the increased vulnerabilities of migrant workers who work in sanitation were also raised as an issue that needs to be addressed through holistic efforts to improve the situation of migrant workers in the country at large.
Things have improved for Faiga in the last couple of years, with proper solid waste management systems having been initiated by the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP. Today, she is accustomed to the use of gloves, masks and boots in her composting work, and cannot imagine a time when she was involved in waste management work without proper safety gear or training. However, this is not the case for most workers in the Maldives and Faiga is currently a passionate advocate for sustainable and safe waste management practices for all.
Faiga Uman and Aminath Ameena will share these concerns and issues at the upcoming SACOSAN VII, with the hope that their voices will be heard by policy makers, and that they and their friends will not be left behind as we continue to strive towards improved sanitation in the country and region.
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