Sakhiva Khatun, who lives in a slum at the bank of Bagmati River in Teku, at the heart of capital Kathmandu, is serving the people cleaning the garbage from different parts of the city. Although she supports the cleaning of the city without any formal job, Khatum is yet to receive any recognition or respect from the government and the public.
“All the people hate us and even stray dogs bark at us. Known as Khate, we are the most hated people in the city,” said Khatum. Despite her work in an unhygienic environment of the garbage dumping sites of the river, her family generates around only about Rs.250.00 (US$3.5) a day.
"I have to wake up every day at 2 in the morning to collect garbage from various parts of the city. We buy our daily necessity by selling the garbage. As I am sick I have not been able to work for the past 20 days. I therefore do not have any income or any food to eat. People often shout at us when we collect their waste, which is very humiliating," said Sakhiya Khatun, one of many waste pickers.
Ram Pukar Das, 38, from Janakpur, has a similar story to share. “We are living in a situation where we have to struggle hard to make for one meal. During the rainy session, we have to sleep without meal,” said Das, an informal garbage collector.
Khatun and Pukar are among many who have been living in a dire situation, below the poverty line. Informal workers in solid waste management are often worse off.
It is estimated that there are between 10,000 and 15,000 waste pickers in the valley. Ignored for years by government, these workers are now heaving a sigh of relief thanks to Practical Action, an international non-governmental organization.
With support from the European Union, Practical Action is implementing the project targeting 4,000 Informal Waste Workers (IWWs) within five municipalities of Kathmandu Valley- Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Lalitpur Sub-Metropolitan City, Bhaktapur Municipality, Madhyapur Thimi Municipality and Kirtipur will be directly benefitted. The project expects that the situation will be changed following the completion of the program
Although these workers play a vital role in dealing with the waste generated in the valley, the profession harbors negative stigma unrecognized by the society as well as the local and state authorities.`
Everyone, who has been crossing the Bagmati bridges, just does not bother to notice the rag collectors, popularly known as Khates. Practical Action, an INGO, however, realized that these people should not go unnoticed. It sought support from European Union, and launched Poverty Reduction of Informal Workers in Solid Waste Management Sector (PRISM).
Looking at the painful conditions or urban poor, the European Union and Practical Action have joined hands to help improve the situation and 4,000 informal workers in the solid waste management will benefit from some social protection schemes.
According to a press release of the European Union, it is giving EUR 1,253,125 to the PRISM Project (Poverty Reduction of Informal Workers in Solid Waste Management Sector) implemented by Practical Action, which has provided 20 percent of the total project cost (EUR 1,566,406). The PRISM project will ameliorate the living conditions of waste pickers, who are among the poorest people in the Kathmandu area and are socially and economically exploited. One of major parts of the project is that thirty five per cent of the project beneficiaries will be women.
Right now they lead a life of humiliation and oppression in the absence of any social protection measures. The project will help make their lives and work more dignified. The primary objective of the project is to improve the living conditions of these informal workers involved in managing solid waste. The project seeks to raise their income by 30 percent, reduce the negative stigma attached to the profession, improve their working conditions and help them benefit from social protection schemes.
As Practical Action mobilizes various other organizations, the project will be a model in Nepal. Practical Action will implement the project with its local partner, the Centre for Integrated Urban Development (CIUD). Project associates are Solid Waste Management and Resource Management Centre (SWMRMC), UN-Habitat, Water for Asian Cities Program Nepal, and Nepal Re-use and Recyclable Goods Entrepreneurs Association (NRRGEA).
The three-year project will cover the municipalities inside the Kathmandu Valley: Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Lalitpur Sub Metropolitan City, Bhaktapur, Madhyapur Thimi and Kirtipur.
Launching the program Chargé d'Affaires a.i. of the European Union Delegation to Nepal, Lluis Navarro said European Union was pleased to support this kind of program which will directly benefit the poor people. “I am very glad to say that this program will change the status and dignity of the garbage collectors as well,” said Navarro.
“We want to work in urban areas to contribute to solve the urban poverty. After completion of this project, the future of garbage collectors who live in urban slums, will be different from what it is now,” said Achyut Luitel, country director, Practical Action. “As we have also worked with European Union in the past, I am optimistic about the project’s future,” said Luitel.
Although the project will be implemented by Practical Action, the municipalities will also benefit from it. Under secretary of Ministry of Local Development Binod Singh said,” Ministry of Local Development wants to see this is a model project and it can be replicated to other municipalities also.
The primary objective of the project is to improve the living conditions of these informal workers involved in managing solid waste.
Member secretary of Social Welfare Council Dr. Chewang Namgel (Lama) Sherpa said that government effort cannot alone enough to improve the livelihood of the poor people. International non-governmental organizations like Practical Action should be encouraged in this sector. “We are ready to provide all necessary support to the project,” said Sherpa.
With the resources of Nepal’s major donor European Union and expertise of Practical Action and involvement of various other national and international stake holders and local groups, PRISM can develop to be an example in urban poverty alleviation.