In the World's Most Crowded City, the 'World's Worst Job'

A look at the sewer cleaners of Dhaka
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 24, 2018 4:00 PM CDT
A view of Dhaka.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – New York is America's most crowded city, at about 27,000 people per square mile. That's downright airy compared to Dhaka, Bangladesh, which ranks as the planet's densest city at 115,000 people per square mile. And as the Guardian reports, it's not just overflowing with people. Dhaka has a serious sewer problem, one that's exacerbated during monsoon season, when drains that can't keep up with the population and the weather cause "the low-lying city [to fill] with water like a bathtub," writes Poppy McPherson. That has created the existence of what has been referred to as the "world's worst job": sewer cleaner. The cleaners' tools can be as primitive as bamboo sticks plunged into clogged manholes; sometimes, the cleaners themselves are the ones plunged into the filth.

It can be deadly work, no more so than in 2008, when seven cleaners tasked with clearing a manhole got sucked in; onlookers used shovels and hammers to bust open the road and retrieve them. Only three survived. And even the unscathed aren't unscathed: "The sewerage lines are acidic and poisonous due to rotten filth," explains one sewer cleaner. "So cleaners are 100% sure to have health problems, especially skin problems." McPherson explains that the city's Mughal-era canals used to provide drainage, but after Bangladesh gained its independence in 1971, they were filled in to make way for development. The city agreed to move forward on a plan to resurrect some of those canals—but that was five years ago, and little has been accomplished. Read the full story here. (Read more Dhaka stories.)

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