Since the beginning of COVID-19, a section of people has carried on their work on the nearly empty streets of Bangladesh. They have continued to ensure better hygiene for others, while their own has remained neglected. This key group of frontline workers, also known as municipal cleaners, continue to put their lives at risk of contracting the virus, as they clean out a large amount of waste generated every day from the use of disposable masks, gloves, and other protective equipment.
In order to address their health risks, Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) has entered into a partnership with the multi-sectoral civic platform Healthy Bangladesh and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to distribute personal protective equipment (PPE) to nearly 3000 waste management staff in 16 Pourashavas and 1 City Corporation of Bangladesh.
The initiative falls under the “Clean Cities” banner of Healthy Bangladesh, which was inaugurated at Moulovibazar pourashava on June 25. It is currently being carried out in Pabna, Bogra, Chapainababganj, Dhamrai, Jhenaidaha, Khagrachari, Kushtia, Manikganj, Mongla Port, Moulovibazar, Nilphamari, Noakhali, Patuakhali, Panchagoar, Shariatpur, Satkhira and Sylhet City Corporation.
“Covid-19 has thrust hygiene to the forefront of the health agenda. Municipal cleaners are an under-recognized frontline workforce in this essential public response. Keeping our cities clean is key to ensuring a Hygienic Bangladesh,” said Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman, Executive Chairman, PPRC, and Convener of Healthy Bangladesh, as he launched the initiative through a virtual session on June 24.
The program was attended by Sudipto Mukerjee, Resident Representative of UNDP in Bangladesh, and special guest of the event, along with mayors, councilors, and city-level stakeholders.
“Although long overdue, let us seize this momentous opportunity to completely change our values and ways of thinking so that from this point onwards, we become far more respectful towards these social caregivers,” said UNDP Resident Representative Sudipto Mukerjee.
Through another virtual meeting on July 6, the honorable Mayors of 4 pourashavas – Manikganj, Khagrachari, Chapainawabgank, and Dhamrai – initiated the PPE distribution program in their respective cities.
“Even when all institutions were closed, the waste management staff continued to work hard and played a huge role in keeping our cities clean. They disregarded all kinds of risks and fears to respond to our call, so I extend my gratitude towards them in today’s session.” said the Honorable Mayor of Chapainawabganj, Mr. Nazrul Islam.
“We do not fear Corona, we will continue to work as long as you’re with us,” said one municipal cleaner, as he received the PPE kit, while another person expressed her gratitude towards this initiative for ensuring their safety. Each kit consisted of gloves, masks, goggles, boots, and overalls for the worker.
Among others, Dr. Rashid E Mahbub from Healthy Bangladesh, AMM Nasir Uddin, Professor Humayun Kabir Chowdhury, Dr. A.K Fazlur Rahman, Phillip Gain, Abdul Wazed, Mountaineer Muhit were present at the event.
AMM Nasir Uddin, Former Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, praised the initiative. He further added, “We agree that the fact that our municipal cleaners are also frontline corona-fighters, has not come up in national-level discussions. But I hope that through this initiative, this fact will be brought to the center-stage and they will get the respect they deserve.”
In the second phase of this initiative, PPRC will be working with technical partners to provide training to the municipal workers. The training provided will ensure proper pandemic response and safety as well as good practices beyond the COVID 19 crisis. PPRC hopes to continue its efforts to support municipal workers in collaboration with its partners with the broader agenda of achieving ‘Clean Cities’ in Bangladesh.