In early May, latrine pit emptying field work was completed in the Pakhirachala Village in Mymensingh District. This work consisted of interviews with local pit emptiers, observations of local pit emptying operations, and testing five safety interventions in the pit emptying process. The objective of the field work was to understand local emptying practices and potentially find ways to reduce environmental and health risks to pit emptiers and the community.
Nine pit emptiers were interviewed, ranging in age from 16 to 47 years old. All of the interviewees were formally employed during the day by the pourishava (local authority) to collect solid latrine waste and chose to spend 8-10 nights per month informally working part-time as pit emptiers for the additional income.
The workers demonstrated two methods of latrine pit emptying: (1) manually bailing sludge with buckets and rope and (2) utilizing a submersible electric sump pump rented from a local businessman. After removal from the latrine pit, sludge is transported via different types of flexible hosepipes to a nearby burial pit dug by the local pit emptiers.
The safety interventions tested in the Pakhirachala Village included the provision of personal protective equipment and the introduction of four different pit emptying technology aids: a gulper hand pump, a diaphragm hand pump, an electric sump pump and a diesel turbine pump. The personal protective equipment given to the pit emptiers was provided by Forum for Public Health, an NGO. Each pit emptier was provided with a waterproof suit, rubber boots and gloves, safety glasses and a respirator. The workers demonstrated that they could readily perform pit emptying operations while wearing this equipment and reported that they believed the gear made their work cleaner.
The operations of each of the four pit emptying technologies were demonstrated for the local pit emptiers. Afterwards, the advantages and disadvantages of the various pumps were discussed. It was noted that although all of the technologies had the potential to reduce the health risks of pit emptiers due to reduced exposure to fecal sludge, none of these interventions addressed the environmental or community risks resulting from the on-site sludge burial pits.
This field work will be repeated in a village in Khulna District to compare and contrast the findings in Mymensingh.