how big change

started small in Bangladesh


“Thank you for supporting Practical Action’s work around the world, and for taking the time to think about leaving a gift in your Will to Practical Action. Special gifts like this help to make everything Practical Action does possible.

Below you’ll find the story of an amazing piece of Practical Action work that I’m very proud to be part of.

It began small, in just one community, but is now helping transform lives in 99 countries.”


Hossain Ishrath Adib
Head of Programme Implementation,
Practical Action Bangladesh

The challenge: a dangerous & shameful job

In Bangladesh there is almost universal access to a basic toilet, but more than 99% of the country has no proper sewerage system to transport the waste away or treat it. Latrines funnel waste into septic tanks, and when the tanks are full, they must be emptied. That job falls to the pit emptiers.

  • Pit-emptiers empty septic tanks with nothing but their bare hands and buckets. Handling toxic substances without access to protective clothing or safety equipment is a dangerous job.
  • Without any formal sewerage systems, the pit emptiers often have no other choice than to dump the barrels of waste into local rivers and onto wasteland, which poisons the environment and creates serious health risks for the whole community.
  • Jobs are irregular and wages are low as there is no set rate for freelance pit and tank emptying services.
  • Pit emptiers often find themselves and their families shunned from their community due to the nature of their work.

“People call me out as a pit emptier’s wife. They don’t want to speak to us because we are pit emptiers.
We are not allowed in stores. I wonder how long we will have to live like this.”

Sonia’s husband works as a pit emptier.

The solution: Multiplying a project’s success

Practical Action began work with the community in Faridpur in 2015. Together with the pit emptiers and the local authority, we created a full faecal sludge management system, which has transformed local communities, and is now being implemented across Bangladesh.

  • Safe and dignified employment: Pit emptiers in Faridpur are now working together, under contract with the local authority. They have fair pay. Each of them has full safety gear. They no longer use buckets to empty the septic tanks – they use pumps, which are quick and safe.
  • Changing hearts and minds: A city-wide campaign used competitions, rallies, debates and even a TV show to tell residents about the waste problem and the importance of pit-emptiers.
  • Turning waste into wealth: The pit emptiers now empty the human waste into trucks, which safely carry it to a faecal sludge processing plant. There, it is turned into compost for non-food crops.
  • The power of small to change the big picture: The project in Faridpur showcased the system’s benefits to other municipalities, and 10 more introduced it. We are now working with the Bangladesh government to bring it to every medium-sized community in the country.
  • Beyond Bangladesh, the benefits are spreading even further, thanks to a Practical Action report pulling together all our faecal sludge management knowledge. This best practice guide is being implemented in 99 countries, and the whole project won a prestigious Collaboration Award.

“We have monthly meetings with the authorities. By working together with other pit emptiers, I feel that I have more control over my work and my life.”

Sanjay (left), a pit emptier in Faridpur.

“Big change happens through genuine collaboration, mixed with doses of ingenuity and sharing of knowledge. This is how we work to help people find solutions to some of the world’s toughest problems.” Rachel Hudson, Practical Action, Director

A gift in your Will to create lasting change

By making a gift in your Will to Practical Action, you help create a world that works better for everyone, including the poorest communities.


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