Standing Against COVID-19: Waste Workers

By Sushmita Karki
Feb 15, 2021

Washing, sanitizing, and keeping our hands contamination-free is the primary precaution to protection from COVID-19, but what if it is your job to handle waste directly?

During the time of COVID-19 pandemic, waste management has proven to be a crucial public health and sanitation service where public have the privilege to avoid health risks from waste piling and disposal. However, waste management sector in Nepal faces several barriers with low priority from national and local authorities that has resulted into lack of awareness, human resource capacity, technology, advanced infrastructure, and financial resources.

In Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC), it is estimated that 15,539 waste workers are involved in waste collection, segregation, cleaning, and disposal. Despite of the pandemic, waste workers are in relentless action as front-liners for the community. Already marginalized occupation with low income and benefits, waste workers bear high risks of virus transmission and other diseases with continuous exposure to large quantities of waste. Additionally, lack of proper safety gears, poor hygiene practices and living condition increases health risks significantly.

Prakash Shivabhakti, a waste worker since 14 years expressed how he struggled to continue his job with being tested positive for COVID-19 and fear of safety during the pandemic. It also changed his perception towards the importance of hygiene, safety gears, and protection in waste management.

Badra Kumari Pariyar, a waste picker from Chitwan struggled to sustain her family of seven members with low income, especially during the COVID-19 lockdown in Nepal.

Stagnant economy, unemployment, sealed borders, social distancing, and lockdown caused by COVID-19 in Nepal affected most industries, occupations, and communities. In such situation, Waste Workers are one of the most vulnerable groups that require support from every level of our community. WHO guidelines also suggest that the household generated waste during the pandemic should be tightly packed in strong bags to prevent contamination to waste workers. We can assist waste workers at individual level by following such public health protocols.

CREASION Nepal, in support from The Coca- Cola Foundation, initiated Waste Workers Emergency Relief Project (WWERP) that provided safety, medical, food, and awareness relief to 3212 waste workers with a total reach up to 16060 beneficiaries in 7 districts. Furthermore, with the support from The World Bank Group- Nepal, CREASION successfully conducted 5 COVID-19 safety gears distributions to 75 waste workers in 3 districts. Although the relief operations from several private and not-profit institutions are working for the welfare of waste workers, collective action from other contributors at national and local level are necessary to formulate strong policies and provide social dignity for our waste workers.

Learn how to support waste workers at communal level by proper waste management through CREASION’s “Safe Waste Management Awareness” video; Safe Waste Management

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