Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Build inclusive toilets in public places


In the minds of many, the issue of public toilets comes at the last stage. However, in fact, the construction, condition, management or operation of public toilets in any country in the world today shows how civilized that country is and how responsive its government is to its people. In other words, the condition of public toilets helps to find out whether a country is civilized or not. Construction and proper management of adequate human- or gender-friendly public toilets represents the society and the nation itself.

Although the first modern flush toilet was invented in 1596 by John Harington, the very first public toilets were introduced in 1851 at the Crystal Palace in London. While looking back at the history of public toilets worldwide, George Jennings, a plumber by profession, installed what he called “Monkey Closets”.

Talking about Nepal, it is said that the first toilet was built at Hanumandhoka during the reign of King Pratap Malla (1624-74 AD). And on 30 September 2019, Nepal was declared an Open Defecation Free (ODF) zone under Sustainable Development Goal 6 and became First ‘Open-Defecation Free’ South Asian Country. The program declared all 753 local units[1]in 77 districts of Nepal as ODF.

Now the question arises: Is Nepal actually a country free from open defecation? Answer: No. Not at all.

Frankly speaking, even Kathmandu Metropolitan City, which is the oldest, largest, most developed city of the country, has not yet become open defecation-free. But after the metropolis got a new leadership in the last local elections, the matter has improved a lot. However, in other metropolitan and sub-metropolitan cities of the country, the slogan of 'free open defecation' is limited to papers and slogans only.

The slogan of 'free open defecation' is limited to papers and slogans only.

In this context, Butwal sub-metropolis, which was declared free of open defecation about seven years ago, has not yet become free of open defecation. Nor has the new leadership of this sub-metropolitan city like Kathmandu Metropolitan City taken any initiative to make it open defecation free. It is sad that a city with a population of about 2 lakhs[2] and the economic hub of province 5 is still not free of open defecation. During my field visit and observation, I was informed that there are not more than 14 public toilets here. However, I only visited 8 public toilets in total. There is no actual data of public toilets in the sub-metropolitan city itself. Located at the intersection of Mahendra Highway and Siddharth Highway, this sub-metropolitan city is visited by thousands of people every day. Thus, people urinate and defecate in alleys or street corners or open spaces. As a result, the condition of Tinau river is pathetic. The existing public toilets are also not organized. They are smelly and the stench is spreading around them. We have to pay for using public toilets but no attention is paid to cleanliness. In fact, sanitation is completely neglected whereas sanitation has been prioritized since the beginning of human civilization. Due to the lack of sanitation, various types of communicable diseases are transmitted to people and it also has an adverse effect on the environment too.  

On the one hand, there is a lack of sufficient public toilets, on the other hand, those public toilets are neither organized, nor disabled-friendly, nor gender-friendly. In essence, the situation here is dire. As public toilets are not designed to be disabled-friendly and gender-friendly, people with disabilities and LGBT[3] people are suffering more pain and trouble which cannot be described in this short write-up. To be frank, they have been denied access to public toilets, which is a violation of their fundamental rights under the current constitution.[4]

People with disabilities and people of different genders (LBGT) are also members of the society. They also have fundamental rights and human rights. While voting for people's representatives during elections, their votes have the same weight as our votes. Now the question arises why they have been neglected and deprived of the services and facilities provided by the state? This serious problem exists not only in various public toilets of Butwal sub-metropolitan city, but also in various government agencies including educational institutions, telecommunications, courts. As a result, people with disabilities face harassment or violence and transgender people also face unique challenges while managing menstruation.

People with disabilities face harassment or violence and transgender people also face unique challenges while managing menstruation.

In a densely populated urban area like Butwal, the issue of health and hygiene should be considered very important and sensitive. Thousands of people travel daily, thousands come for various works, thousands live in rented rooms, and they suffer due to lack of adequate and well-maintained public toilets. Consequently, people have to go outside to use the field, such as a bush or a street corner or an alley or a river bank. In other words, everyday thousands of locals, passengers/travelers and pedestrians are forced to urinate and defecate in the open.

People (especially women) do not drink their daily requirement of water to avoid having to use the toilet while traveling or commuting in this area. Even if they drink a little water, they are forced to hold their urine for a long time. Consequently, the possibility of infection in the urinary tract, prolapsed blader, and involuntary urination has a serious impact on health. On the other hand, those who use public toilets by paying a fee are also more prone to infection due to the condition of those toilets, especially women. Thus, on the one hand, due to the dilapidated condition of public toilets, there is a possibility of infection of various diseases among the people using public toilets. On the other hand, air pollution caused by open defecation has a serious impact on people's health and the environment. This is a violation of the right of the people to live in a clean and healthy environment under the fundamental right granted by the constitution.[5] In this way, the Butwal sub-metropolitan city has clearly violated the above-mentioned fundamental rights of the people. In addition, it has also not fulfilled its legal obligations.[6]

Actually, the problem is not only of Butwal sub-metropolitan city. One of the major duties and responsibilities of all local bodies across the country is to maintain health, hygiene and sanitation by establishing public toilets and properly managing the garbage produced in their localities, which is clearly mentioned by the Local Government Operation Act 2017 A.D. What is more, municipalities, sub-metropolitan cities and metropolitan cities should be even more sensitive to this issue and be accountable to the people. However, public toilets have been vastly neglected in our country in practice. Indeed, public toilets are not only the need of the city, but also the cultural identity of the city. Thus, cleanliness should also be emphasized to promote tourism industry for all round development of the country.

We celebrate World Toilet Day on November 19 every year under the leadership of various governmental and non-governmental organizations. But we do not care or research the fact that thousands of people are being infected by using public toilets in our country. Many people hold urine for long periods of time due to the lack of and poor condition of the public toilets and holding urine for a long time can cause health problems for thousands of people, while tens of thousands of people are polluting the environment every day by defecating in the open. Due to these problems, the construction and management of adequate public toilets has become a major challenge across the country, in particular in cities, commercial centers, travel routes (including highways) and district headquarters. And the poor, women, disabled and LBGT are comparatively the most affected. Some women are even raped because they go to the open place to defecate. Therefore, all local bodies should allocate a certain amount of  annual budget for the construction and proper management of adequate public toilets and should cooperate and coordinate accordingly with various associations within their respective area.

Published on 17 March 2023






[1]  As per the constitution of 2072 B.S. (2015 A.D.) our country is divided into 6 metropolitan cities, 11 sub-metropolitan cities, 276 municipalities and 460 rural municipalities, which function as local levels with well-defined constitutional duties, powers and responsibilities to operate them.

[2]  As per 2021 Nepal census, the population of the city of Butwal is 195,054.

[3] Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender.

[4] See article 18 of the constitution, 2015 AD.

[5]  See article 30 (1) “ Every citizen shall have the right to live in a clean and healthy environment”.

[6] See 9 of C of sub- Sec 2 of sec 12 of Local Government Operation Act 2017 A.D.