People don’t always like to talk about faecal sludge management. But it can be the key to improving lives, both for waste workers, and underserved communities. We are facilitating bold sanitation systems, that will make Bangladesh’s cities and towns cleaner, healthier and fairer.
Full title: Towards a dignified life for all sanitation workers in Bangladesh
Location: Various urban centres in Bangladesh (Faridpur since 2014, expanding to Bagerhat, Barguna, Gazipur City, Kolaroa, Laksam, Magura, Meherpur, Rajbari and Satkhira in 2022).
Our role: Practical Action is collaborating with sanitary waste workers and the local authorities to transform the way faecal sludge is collected, processed and treated, and improve the health, safety and status of workers. We’re also working to change public attitudes towards those working in the toilet waste sector.
Participants: By 2022 we had reached 561,150 city residents. As the programme expands we will work with 3,000 sanitation workers across 60 co-operatives, reaching 1.1 million people across 10 urban centres.
Project Budget, Phase 1 & 2 (2014 – 2022): £2.75 million.
Project Budget, Phase 3 (2022 – 2024): £736,000.
Aim: Cities Fit For People.
Lead Donor: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
People are recognising the importance of the work we do. My neighbours have started to respect me more; they see that I’m supporting my family through this work. Before, my work was very irregular. Now that I work here and am a member of the co-operative, I have a dependable income.
Aklima produces organic fertiliser from safely treated faecal sludge, which is then sold on to farmers.
While almost everyone in Bangladesh has access to a basic toilet, human waste isn’t always safely managed and can cause huge problems, especially for the workers who risk their health and dignity to clean it up.
Waste disposal systems managed by local authorities do not cater for poor, urban ‘slum’ dwellings. Instead informal waste workers have to step up to carry out this vital service.
Waste workers often work in dangerous conditions where they have to empty the contents of pit latrines and septic tanks by hand, facing toxic substances without protective clothing. Their pay and job security are poor and they are often excluded from society and discriminated against because of the work they do.
Because there is no established system for emptying waste and treating it safely, it’s often dumped in local rivers and nearby wasteland, causing serious health and environmental hazards.
We take a systems approach, working across sectors to facilitate bold collaborations between waste workers, communities, the private sector and local government. Our ‘Emptier to Entrepreneur’ model is transforming the sanitation sector.
Informal workers are supported to form co-operatives. By joining together in a formal business, workers are able to develop improved operating practices and obtain the licenses needed for the safe emptying, transport, and disposal of waste. Employment conditions are improved and workers get access to personal protective equipment. New, innovative technology is leased to the co-operatives from the municipality, waste workers swap emptying latrines by hand for ‘Vacutag’ suction technology which is quicker, cleaner and much safer.
The waste is safely treated at a management plant, using ingenuity to create value. Faecal sludge is then combined with organic household waste collection to create organic ‘co-compost’ and compressed bio-gas. This not only generates a new income stream, but also contributes to a lasting sanitation system that is fit for both people and planet!
We have the special ‘gulper’ equipment, which means we can empty the pit from outside without having to get in and get dirty. […] There is less discrimination now. Householders see that we keep ourselves clean using soap and the protective clothing and they are happier to have us working on their property.
Nuider is a toilet-pit emptier who is benefiting from improved technology, co-operative membership and a better social status.
After successfully working with informal sanitation workers in Faridpur since 2014, we scaled up our Emptier to Entrepreneur model through working with co-operatives in five towns (Phase 2) and are now expanding this to a further ten towns (Phase 3), while also engaging with policy makers at a national level. Our expected outcomes in Phase 3 include:
- The creation of a National Platform of Waste and Sanitation Workers co-operatives.
- Co-operatives have easy access to the mechanical equipment for desludging services.
- Co-operatives have easy access to the finance through a public-private partnership model for scaling-up inclusive sanitation to a citywide level.
Aims and impact
Our work started in the city of Faridpur where we have helped transform working and living conditions for residents and waste workers alike. Between 2017 and 2022 we expanded to four more towns. Some of the positive outcomes by the end of 2022 include:
- 305,000 people in five towns are being reached by the services of Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) co-operatives, including 60,000 slum dwellers.
- Safe human waste disposal has more than doubled, from 1.48m to 3.57m litres per year in Faridpur from 2017 to 2022.
- Incomes for co-operative members in Faridpur increased by 44% in Faridpur between 2017 and 2022.
- Workers have been trained in safe practices, and can access personal protective equipment, medical care and health insurances at lower costs, bringing benefits to 1,084 workers and their family members in five towns.
- In 2022, 15 vehicles were in use across the five towns – compared to only two in 2017.
We have developed innovative and ingenious solutions for faecal sludge management challenges and the public-private partnerships needed to maintain them. This includes:
- Three different types of waste transporting vehicles, ensuring access for hard-to-reach communities.
- Five innovations for de-sludging.
- Partnership with Metal PVT Ltd ensures the availability of innovative technologies in collection and transportation for the next ten years.
- Digital approaches to managing household services.
- An integrated approach for treatment, which combines human waste with organic household waste, to safely produce co-compost and compressed bio-gas.
- A local social enterprise, Society Development Committee, is contracted to manage the Compost Research Centre.
We utilised our insights and learning to create inclusive and sustainable sanitation best-practice business models that have facilitated the expansion from Faridpur into four more towns (Rajbari, Meherpur, Magura and Laksam). A further nine co-operatives have been formed with 252 members, bringing the total membership to 529. From 2022, with further funding support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we’re working with waste and sanitation in ten towns and cities across Bangladesh.
We are also using our knowledge and experience to transform Faecal Sludge Management systems beyond the towns and cities where we work directly with waste worker co-operatives, demonstrating that big change can start small:
- Our innovative business model for pit emptying led by waste workers has been integrated into two national programmes.
- New Multi-Stakeholder Steering Committees have been formed across five municipalities, providing the co-operatives with influence in governance and investment.
- Municipal sanitation budgets were successfully influenced with at least 30% now allocated exclusively for decentralized faecal sludge management.
- Four municipalities have produced or updated their sanitation plans, following the application of our approach and learning.
- We successfully advocated for the inclusion of pro-poor and gender transformative approaches during the development of a new FSM Institutional and Regulatory Framework, and the National Action Plan (2020) to deliver this.
- We’ve provided training and consultation to the national Urban Development Directorate, Dept. of Health and Engineering, on development plans, and through our role as Secretariat of the national FSM Network
- We have also provided advice on best practice to the City-Wide Inclusive Sanitation Hub for South Asia, and with key sector partners (for example Asian Development Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) so that our approach can be replicated across Bangladesh, India and Vietnam.
Knowledge Resources and Downloads
Strengthening Gender Responsive Urban Sanitation: Faecal sludge management in Bangladesh
To achieve the safely managed sanitation target under Sustainable Development Goal 6, the Government of Bangladesh has d...
Strengthening Gender Responsive Urban Sanitation: Public and Community Toilets in Bangladesh
In 2021 Practical Action conducted in-depth qualitative research to understand the experiences and priorities of women a...
Policy Brief (2.959Mb)
Creating the working conditions for health, dignity and opportunity
This policy brief has been produced based on a study titled ‘Waste and Sanitation Workers’ Working Condition, Occupa...
Emptier to Entrepreneur - Ensuring dignity in the lives of waste and sanitation workers in Bangladesh
Practical Action is working with informal sanitation and waste workers in Bangladesh to improve their dignity, working c...
Sustainable Development Goals
This project contributes to progress towards at least four of the seventeen SDGs:
Safe handling and disposal of waste reduces the spread of communicable diseases.
We are bringing new innovations which empower women in terms of representation and new economic opportunities.
We work with informal workers to develop safe, affordable and reliable water and sanitation services in underserved communities.
Our ‘Emptier to Entrepreneur’ approach provide waste workers with a safe and dignified way to make a living.
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