Nepal sanitation workers fight COVID-19 unarmed

Nepal sanitation workers continue to clean without gloves, masks and shoes

By Raman Paudel
Published: Monday 11 May 2020

Thousands of sanitation workers in Kathmandu have been fighting the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic unarmed — without gloves and masks.

Arjun Khadgi (23), a sanitation worker in Kathmandu municipality ward number 4 has been working for more than five years. But rarely does he get any protective shield against SARS-CoV-2 virus — or the toxic gases.

“Millions of people have been affected by COVID-19 across the world. Protective gear is important for us if we have to continue working,” he said.

Nepal Prime Minister KP Oli had announced that every sanitation worker would get life insurance a few months ago. But the issue never cropped up in any of his speeches again.

More than 0.7 million workers are involved in labour work in Nepal. Of them, more than a lakh are engaged in health-related work.

Nabin Magar (25) a sanitation worker in Kathmandu valley said that the work was a compulsion. “I don’t like this work and don’t want to do it during the COVID-19 pandemic. But I have no other option,” he said.

Nabin wakes up at 4 am and sets out for work. He spends the whole day in search of garbage; but is afraid of it due to lack of proper surgical mask, gloves and shoes.

A waste management group that works with the Nepal government claimed it provided hundreds of mask and gloves to the employees. More than one thousand sanitation workers set out on their duty in over 250 trucks every day.

Among them, more than 700 employees are deployed by the Kathmandu municipality and 1,000 from private organisations.

Dozens of companies and organisations including the municipality did not provide protective gear saying they had ‘only limited masks and gloves’.

Kathmandu mayor Bidhyasundhar Shakya said if anybody needed masks and gloves they could ask the municipality. “We distributed mask and gloves to a few employees. But they don’t use it properly,” claimed Hari Kumar Shresth, chief of environment department, Kathmandu Municipality.

“The situation is serious. Government officials distributed masks and gloves once. There was no follow-up. No COVID-19 tests were conducted. If an employee tests positive for the virus, who will be responsible?” said Padam Bahadur Shresth, an advocate for labourers.

He claimed he will file a complaint against government officials in this regard.

Advocate Padam Bahadur claimed he had a word with the mayor and his allies about COVID-19 impact on employees and said the municipality needed to be more sincere about their health issues.

“I suggested that a new programme for protection of sanitation workers be started. I demanded that PPEs and protective gowns be distributed to sanitation workers,” he said.

Municipality officials argued that the Kathmandu Valley did not have high levels of waste because of the lockdown.

Kiran Pariyar (26), however, is afraid of the work. “I have to put my life in risk to earn Rs 15,000 a month. Government officials think only healthcare workers need PPE,” he said.

He added that sanitation workers did not have soap and water to maintain essential hygiene.


Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :
Related Stories

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.