2021 Research Awards - Sanitation Workers: winners and runners-up

3 min read
Image: WaterAid/James Kiyimba

Sanitation workers provide an essential public service, but this is often at the cost of their dignity, safety, health and living conditions. It is therefore crucial to conduct research and generate evidence to address any gaps in knowledge and implement policies and programmes that improve the situation for sanitation workers.

To encourage research on this subject, The Water Institute at the University of North Carolina (UNC) and the Initiative for Sanitation Workers organised the 2021 Research Awards – Sanitation Workers, to recognise studies that show excellence, relevance, impact, clarity and novelty.

The awardees, announced at the 2021 UNC Water and Health Conference, are:

Best Original Research Abstract


Dr Sally Cawood, Malisha Farzana and K M Faisal Naeem
Losing out on improved sanitation work? Challenges and pathways out of manual pit emptying in Bangladesh


Rachel Sklar, Zeyi Zhou, Wellars Ndayisaba, Ashley Muspratt, Erica R Fuhrmeister, Kara Nelson and S Katharine Hammond
Evaluating occupational exposure and health risks during faecal sludge management activities in Kigali, Rwanda: exploration of field sampling, lab and simulation methods

Best published paper


Mariam Zaqout, Sally Cawood, Barbara E Evans and Dani J Barrington
Sustainable sanitation jobs: prospects for enhancing the livelihoods of pit-emptiers in Bangladesh (2021), Third World Quarterly

Mamta Gautam, Kavita Wankhade, Gayathri Sarangan and Srinithi Sudhakar
Framework for addressing occupational safety of de-sludging operators: a study in two Indian cities (2021), Journal of Environmental Management.

Read the abstract | Watch the presentation

Rachel Peletz, Andy Feng, Clara MacLeod, Dianne Vernon, Tim Wang, Joan Kones, Caroline Delaire, Salim Haji and Ranjiv Khush
Expanding safe faecal sludge management in Kisumu, Kenya: an experimental comparison of latrine pit-emptying services (2020), Journal of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Development

Read the abstract | Watch the presentation

The submissions were evaluated by a panel of researchers, academics and policy experts working on this subject. The evaluation criteria were:

Best original research abstract

  • Well-structured and organised, with clear research/learning objectives, background, methods, evidence/lessons learned, and conclusions
  • Clear lessons learned which potentially contribute to improvement in the situation of sanitation workers
  • Conclusions derived from evidence and/or practical experiences
  • Makes a novel contribution to existing knowledge on this theme

Best published paper

  • Well defined research/learning objectives 
  • Appropriate and sound methods, described clearly 
  • Clear lessons learned/practical recommendations which potentially contribute to improvement in the situation of sanitation workers 
  • Conclusions derived from evidence and/or practical experiences 
  • Makes a novel contribution to existing knowledge on this theme 
  • Builds on existing knowledge, with references wherever appropriate

Top image: Sanitation worker Julius Chisengo, 49, stands outside a latrine after emptying and cleaning it, Kigambon-Umawa, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, June 2019.