Even Researchers Were Shocked By How Tough Life Is For Sanitation Workers

In lower-income countries, snakes, cow carcasses and collapsing walls are among the hazards faced by this critical but long-ignored group of workers.
Gabriel Toto is a bayakou, or latrine cleaner, in Haiti. Source: Marie Arago for NPR

The work is dirty, dangerous ... and thankless.

Sanitation workers in lower income countries often endure grueling conditions to perform a service that's vital to keeping their communities healthy. Yet their suffering has largely gone ignored — even by advocates for the poor.

"This has been a very neglected issue," says Andres Hueso, a senior policy analyst with the nonprofit aid group Water Aid. Now he's part of a group of researchers hoping to change that – with a new report jointly released by the World Health Organization, the World Bank Group and the International Labour Organization.

The report analyses a range of national-level studies in nine countries and interviewed 19 workers to provide what its authors say is the first global picture of the challenges that sanitation workers face.

"What surprised me was how widespread these problems were and how it was an issue in so many of the countries that we and are available online.)

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