Wednesday June 12, 2024

Hygiene for all

By Naeem Sadiq
November 19, 2019

Pakistan’s biggest city Karachi can embarrassingly claim to have built, for its estimated 20 million people, only 124 public toilets in the last 72 years. Most of these are broken down, dysfunctional or unbearably nauseating. The city’s performance on sanitation is far more deplorable. Karachi, for years has been sending its entire 500 million gallons of raw untreated sewerage into the sea on a daily basis.

How come ‘Access to Information’ is a fundamental human right in Pakistan (Article 19A), but ‘Access to Toilet’ is not? How come 162 million people have access to cell phones, while the large majority of them do not have access to a half decent toilet? How come Pakistan is the third largest country when it comes to people without access to a toilet? How come 41 million people still suffer the daily humiliation of defecating in the open?

Pakistan’s constitution requires all law-makers to be truthful and saintly. It however does not require them to be sensitive to the needs of ordinary people. Perhaps the law ought to be revised to make it mandatory for every parliamentarian, for one day every month, to either only use public toilets (which are essentially not there) or to join the lesser beings in their daily demeaning open defecation ritual.

Human waste spreads killer diseases – diarrhea, intestinal worm infections, typhoid, cholera, hepatitis, fungal infections and not to forget the infamous polio. Forty-four percent children in Pakistan suffer from stunting that is attributed to malnutrition and gastrointestinal disorders. The greatest burden of shame, bowel-control, fear and harassment is borne by women. They must perform this function in the pre-dawn opaqueness or wait for the darkness of the night.

In 2014, the Indian prime minister declared his vision for an Open Defecation-Free (ODF) India by 2019. This involved building 120 million toilets spread over 4000 towns and cities. India may not have achieved this target, but in the process they have built over 101 million toilets and made 91 percent villages free from open defecation.

A yet more remarkable sanitation story belongs to Bangladesh. Its ODF rates fell from 42 percent in 2003 to about one percent by 2015. By 2017, Bangladesh adopting a Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach was “close to eliminating open defecation”. The CLTS model was against subsidy-driven construction of toilets, focusing instead on generating collective community demand for most basic indoor toilets – the double-pit design.

Working on a self-help basis, the Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust has developed hundreds of low-cost toilets at Khairo Dero in Sindh for approximately Rs10,000 per toilet. Similar toilets in Pakistan have been successfully built by other organisations as well. The Bangladesh model ‘two pit’ toilets cost even lesser. So what stops the state from building toilets that cost less than the furniture in an average bureaucrats’ office? Could the Karachi Port that built a fancy showpiece water sprouting fountain for Rs320 million not have built some 10,000 public toilets instead?

Can Pakistan begin to think differently about its ordinary citizens? Can Pakistan declare and work towards an Open Defecation Free (ODF) Pakistan by 2025 and build one million toilets to enable all citizens the dignity, hygiene and privacy that is their basic human right? And lastly, can the first few thousand of these one million toilets be made in girls’ schools? After all, that is the biggest cause of why our girls drop out of schools.

The writer is a management systems consultant and a freelance writer on social issues.