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Three Christian sewage workers killed by toxic fumes whilst working without PPE

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Three Christian men died while cleaning a sewer in Pakistan by hand despite being provided with no personal protective equipment or uniform.

The three men named Saleem Masih (50 yrs), Danish Masih (20 yrs) and Nadeem Masih (18 yrs) lived at the servants quarters of Sadiq Public School. On Monday 3rd July 2017 the men were instructed to clear the blockage in a large sewer pipe at Ara Basti a small town in Bhawalpur.

When they got to the site  they opened the door to the sewer and allowed some time for noxious fumes to escape a common practice for untrained sewage workers.  They then jumped into the sewer wearing just a sharwar (Pakistani trouser) and carrying some tools to clear the blockage.  As they jumped in Saleem and Danish were immediately killed from poisonous gases. 

Nadeem was helped out of the sewer by one of the clients but died later at Victoria Hospital in the early hours of Tuesday 4th July. 

Sewage pipelines generate a number of harmful gases, known collectively as sewer gas. Gases include methane, ammonia, hydrogen sulphide, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. This can have deadly consequences, especially for people who work on sewers or sewage treatment plants. 

 

The three men who all worked for Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) had no chance for survival say local residents and fellow colleagues.  They were wearing inappropriate clothing, had had little training in practices that could save their lives and had no equipment to measure poisonous gas levels.  Sewage workers work unsupervised and often it falls to clients who called them out to help them out with some recorded instances where clients themselves are killed trying to save sewage workers (click here)

In a recent case doctors refusing to treat 'filthy Christians' resulted in the death of a sewage workercleaner (click here)

Danish Masih was married to his wife on two months previously, Nadeem Masih was working to help his poor parents and Saleem Masih at the ripe age of fifty had been cleaning sewers for the last 30 years. None of the families will be due any compensation and BPCA would like to help with a financial gift to support the families through this difficult time as they seek to make sense of what has happened and cope with the loss of main bread-winners. If you would like to contribute to this appeal please (click here).  

Please sign our petition calling for safer employment and better employment rights for sewage workers in pakistan (click here)

We meet all three families tomorrow and will be giving an initial £100 to each family to help with the cost of the funerals of their loved ones.

Hundreds of sanitation workers reportedly lose their lives every year in Pakistan due to toxic gases in manholes. The Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) provides no compensation to their families or other benefits that other government employees get because the workers lack full employment status despite working decades for the government department. Moreover the wages earned by men working in such a dangerous role is extremely low.
 
Christians account for 90 percent of sewage workers and an even higher percentage of government employed sweepers, they make up only 1.6 percent of Pakistan’s population.

Christian sanitation workers face extremely dangerous work conditions. Pakistan’s sewerage system has not been modernised since British colonial times. Pipes are buried under the ground, with a series of manholes used to clean them. When a sewer line is blocked, bamboo is put into the pipeline through the manhole to penetrate blockages and restart movement. If it is filled with blackwater sewage (sludge), then a cleaner is expected to hold his breath and dive into the filthy water without any protective gear to clear the blockage. Christian workers are not provided any protective gear as they sometimes dive 30 to 50 feet below ground into manholes filled with toxic water.  

Pakistan's authorities discriminate against the country’s religious minorities which relegates them to  lowly sanitation jobs. The Faisalabad Waste Management Company (FWMC) set strict conditions for those who "will improve the cleanliness of the city", stating that candidates "must be from Faisalabad, healthy and non-Muslims." 

For some time, Christians have complained that the Punjab provincial government hires only Christians as sanitation workers. Last year, the head of Multan district health bureau announced that he would hire only non-Muslims to perform such work in local hospitals and rural health facilities. In 2013, the Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province Parvez Khattak, had to clarify his position after stating that "Muslims cannot be hired as sweepers or cleaners” because sanitation work “can only be carried out by Christians, Hindus and lower castes."

Some studies note that about 80 per cent of garbage collectors in Pakistan’s big cities are Christians, branded "choora", a derogatory term used for Christians to define them as “untouchables”.

Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said:

"Lack of opportunity and economic resources forces Christians  to seek employment in sanitary work. Christians are harassed and bullied at school or simply cannot afford the fees for a decent education.  Which limits educational success achievement for most Christians.

"Christians face discrimination in the workplace relegating them to lower paid jobs even when holding batchelor degrees. Worse still adverts promoted for cleaner and sewage vacancies which often place restrictions for applicants from non-Muslim communities only. 

"Woeful  advertisements that  discriminate against non-Muslims by suggesting they are only good for lower paid roles are an attempt to divide society.  They promote the view that non-Muslims are second-class citizens.

"This attitude is a gross violation of Article 27 of the Constitution, which says: ‘No citizen otherwise qualified for appointment in the service of Pakistan shall be discriminated against in respect of any such appointment on the ground only of race, religion, caste, sex, residence or place of birth’.”

Please sign our petition calling for safer employment and better employment rights for sewage workers in pakistan (click here)

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