June 21, 2024
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A day of tragedy: The plight of Lahore’s sanitary workers

Manholes in Lahore

The city of Lahore can’t ignore the suffering of its sanitation workers as it continues to develop and grow.

By Maryam Zubair

Lahore, a city of culture and heritage, a city of gardens and a city of lights; life hustles and evolves in Lahore. There lies a utopian serenity in the chaos of Lahore because it moves on with everyone and for everyone. Or does it? While it moves, many are left. For Ahsan, it stopped along with his breath. Ahsan, 33, was among several who moved along Lahore but were unlucky. Lahore did not care. Its narrowed streets widened to Ahsan’s miseries. Ahsan died serving Lahore. But all for what? Because Lahore moves on!

Ahsan was called with his team early in the morning to clear out a big clog in one of the main sewer lines. Although it was a normal task for them but it was also actually dangerous. As someone who had worked as a sanitary worker for more than ten years, Ahsan knew there were risks, but the need for the job made him do it. As Ahsan went down into the manhole, a sudden rush of poisonous gas, mostly methane and hydrogen sulphide, filled the small area. He was overcome by the fumes because he didn’t have the right safety gear or air systems. Even though his coworkers worked very hard, Ahsan was declared dead when he was pulled from the sewer.

This event is not something that’s not happened before; it is a stark example of the dangers that Lahore’s sanitary workers face every day. These people are in charge of the city’s huge garbage and trash system. It’s a very important job that protects the health and cleanliness of millions of people. Still, they do it in dangerous situations with few protections and almost no public attention. People who work in sanitation, like Ahsan, often do their jobs in places that are unsafe and unhealthy for them. A lot of people are exposed to bacteria, viruses, and toxic gases that can be dangerous. Moving around in small, poorly ventilated areas is also hard on the body and increases the risk of serious injuries or even death. The terrible death of Ahsan brings to light some major problems; there aren’t enough safety measures and protection gear. Even though labour laws include rules and safety guidelines, things are still very bad on the ground. A lot of workers only get basic gear like gloves and boots. They don’t have access to gas masks, danger suits or emergency support systems that could save lives. People in Ahsan’s area and on social media sites quickly got to know of his death, which caused anger and sadness.

At a rally, activists, coworkers, and family members demanded that something be done right away to make working conditions better for sanitation workers. They wanted the government to come up with tighter safety rules, give the workers the training and tools they needed, and protect their rights and dignity.

After what happened, the local government said they would look at the safety rules for sanitation workers and make them better. People started talking about how new technology and tools might be able to stop tragedies like this from happening again. This terrible event is a stark warning of how badly things need to change in the way people treat and value sanitation workers. It asks the government to take action right away to enforce labour rules that keep workers safe. Public awareness efforts should be used to show how important these workers’ jobs are and what problems they face. Investment in technology and infrastructure should be made to bring garbage management systems up to date and protect people from dangerous situations. The people who work in cleaning should be supported and appreciated by the community as an important part of city life.

The city of Lahore can’t ignore the suffering of its sanitation workers as it continues to develop and grow. They are responsible for keeping the city clean and healthy, which is important for everyone. It is important to recognise their job, protect their health, and make their working conditions better. The death of Ahsan should make us aware of the lives of people who work in secret and not let us forget about them. Let us not only remember this terrible event, but also use it as a starting point for real, long lasting change. Lahore should not only want to be known for its history and beauty, but also for how much it cares about the safety and well-being of all its people.

The writer is a community journalist and student of Journalism at Beaconhouse National University, Lahore.