The tragic death of Babar Masih, a 31-year-old sanitation worker who went missing while cleaning a sewer line in Karachi, Pakistan, has once again highlighted the deplorable and unsafe working conditions of sanitation workers in Pakistan, who are discriminated against on the basis of caste and religion.
Masih went missing on 7 May 2023 after being swept away during a suspected flash surge while he was clearing a sewer. As is often the case with sanitation workers in Pakistan, Masih had to perform his work without safety equipment or personal protective equipment (PPE). His body was only recovered twelve days after he went missing.
End Water Poverty member the Center for Law and Justice (CLJ), a grassroots NGO working to protect the rights and interests of disadvantaged religious minority communities and sanitation workers in Pakistan through research, strategic litigation and their powerful advocacy campaign #SweepersAreSuperheroes, said that Masih’s death was a painful reminder of the inhumane conditions under which countless sanitations workers labour every day and a “desperate cry for change”.
During a recent plenary discussion at the All Systems Connect symposium in the Hague, the Netherlands, CLJ’s executive director Mary James Gill outlined the precariousness of sanitation work and outlined practical steps to improve the lives and working conditions of sanitation workers. “Despite the essential service they perform, sanitation workers are forced to work without safety equipment or PPE, without medical insurance and sufficient healthcare, and are often working for very low daily wages,” Gill said. “People don’t consider that the cost to sanitation workers is a cost to humans – real humans. They’re not ‘resources’ or ‘human capital’; they’re people who deserve