Dirty, Dangerous and Deplorable
Newsweek examines the life of Rakesh, a 27-year-old sewage worker who is a member of the Valmiki community, which is at the bottom of India's social hierarchy. Serving as a sewage worker for the Delhi Jal Water Board for the last decade, Rakesh earns about $100 a month--and has a wife and three daughters.
By comparison, PayScale data show U.S. sewage plant operators between the ages of 25-44 earning about $18.83 an hour.
Newsweek goes on to report:
According to Santram Pradhan, president of the union representing the 8,000 Delhi Jal sewage workers, around 1,000 sewage workers have died in the past seven years. He says 200 have died from asphyxiating on the noxious gasses and drowning in excreta, and about 800 others have died from tuberculosis, hepatitis and other diseases. "Half die, half retire," Pradhan says, ascribing many of the safety lapses to the lack of concern for low-caste Valmiki workers shown by Delhi Jal Board officials. Numerous requests to interview Delhi Jal Board officials in charge of sewer workers went unanswered.
According to a BBC News article, 2.6 billion people don't have access to safe and hygienic toilets, a number the United Nations hopes to cut in half by 2015. The U.S. Census Bureau says there are 6.6 billion people on the planet. The BBC story discusses "scavengers"--low-caste workers in India who clean rubbish and human waste from open drains and streets:
Most of these scavengers are Dalits - the lowest rung of Hindu society who continue to face discrimination and prejudice. And an overwhelming 80% of them are women.
"I've grown old doing this dirty work," says Sharadah, a manual scavenger in Nand Nagri, a village on the outskirts of Delhi.
With a broken cycle-rickshaw, Sharadah and her husband head out every morning to clear away waste. Visiting about 40 houses and working for more than 12 hours a day, they earn just $15 a month - barely enough to support their seven children.
A Better Way
It's perplexing and angering to think of billions of people without a clean and safe loo--especially in light of technology's rapid-fire advancements.
A New York Times story reports:
Experts all agree that the two most important public health measures in the world, measures that saved more lives than either vaccines or antibiotics, were in place by the time of the Roman Empire: running water and toilets that carry feces safely away. But, because of the expense of pipes and plumbing, they have remained for over 2,000 years the province of the relatively rich of the world, even though measures that save far fewer lives — from cinchona bark for malaria to antiretrovirals for AIDS — have been hailed as godsends.
If toilets have been around since ancient Rome, we have no excuse for not providing them to every person on this planet.
A good place to start is with better working conditions for laborers such as the sewage workers in India--and by doing away with so-called scavenger jobs. Just the thought of a job with that name is loathsome, not to mention having to do that job on a daily basis.
We also should employ low-cost technology, as the BBC story suggests, to improve the situation.
Readers, what do you think should be done to make matters better?