Mubashir Masih has been toiling away cleaning Peshawar’s streets for the last 19 years but he has never been as scared of the consequences of his job as he is today. That is because of the coronavirus pandemic which has hit his hometown badly. He fears contracting the virus while at work and taking it home, inadvertently, and infecting his loved ones.
Despite having been provided masks, gloves and other safety equipment by the Water and Sanitation Services Company Peshawar in light of the virus threat, he cannot shake away the feeling of vulnerability and fear of passing on the virus to his two sons.
Sanitation workers across the province share Masih’s misery, and most of them have not even been provided any protective gear to begin with.
In response to the Supreme Court’s recent suo motu notice regarding provision of safety equipment to municipal workers, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Local Government Department has stated that it has provided 78,274 masks, 3,200 safety suits, 2,512 pairs of special boots, 40,598 plain gloves, 27,167 special gloves, 1,457 helmets, 800 road safety cones, 147 gas masks, 4,668 rolls of tape and 18,748 sanitisers and soaps to municipal workers across the province.
However, Malik Naveed Awan, who heads the All Pakistan Local Government Workers Federation, accuses the provincial government of committing contempt of court by submitting bogus figures. He claimed further that except for Peshawar, no other municipal service in the province has provided protective gear to its workers. Awan regretted that even the few masks doled out to workers are of such poor quality that they cannot be used more than once.
At present, the province comprises 93 tehsil municipal administrations, seven water and sanitation services companies and 10 local development authorities in which over 12,000 sanitation workers are employed. These workers, like Masih, continue to show up for work without fail but the majority have been left to fend on their own against this global pandemic.