I tried it
Immediately after being pushed out of a crowded public bus in Kawran Bazar, laden with an urgent call of nature which was worsening every minute, Riya, a 24 year old job seeker, was desperately looking for a public restroom to take the load off. But unfortunately, she had to go on a painstaking 15 minute quest to find the nearest public restroom amid the gridlocked streets in Dhaka.
“It was a nightmarish walk to the restroom,” said Riya who came from Rajshahi to attend a job interview. “The road was very crowded and I felt really uncomfortable asking around about a public restroom.
Riya was a rather lucky woman in a city full of male pedestrians squatting on the roadside and a handful of public toilets - firstly because, she did not have to walk any longer than 15 minutes to find the nearest toilet in a city that has one toilet for every 215,000 people and secondly because, she eventually managed to get access to a public restroom that is functional.
While most of the public toilets in Dhaka are infamously unusable and so unhygienic that a simple look at one of the stalls of these restrooms might make you lock up your sphincter, the restroom was surprisingly quite neat and tidy.
A modernized, properly equipped and hygienic public restroom has long been a crying need for the people living in Dhaka. In a bid to resolve this crisis, the capital’s North and South city corporations joined hands with WaterAid Bangladesh, and Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (WASA) to improve the sanitation system of the city. Riya and I, both had the opportunity to avail the services of the renovated public restrooms.
The stinky old loos have been modernized and turned into pretty decent toilet facilities. Divided into mens' and womens' sides, the once nightmarish privies now render lavatory services in facilities with uninterrupted electricity, CCTV cameras, professional cleaners, female caretakers and locker rooms. With clean toilets lined with separated bathrooms for male, female and physically challenged people, lactation and diaper changing room for moms and their toddlers, and five attendants at all times who mop and shine until everything gleams - the restrooms are healthier than ever and responsive to the needs of people with special needs.
For the dehydrated commuters bustling around the broiling city, there is also safe drinking water in the facilities where you can quench your thirst using a one-time plastic glass at only Tk1. Using the toilet facility initially costs Tk5, while taking a shower will cost you Tk10. The cherry on top is that you’ll no longer have to worry about your belongings while doing your business as the restrooms offer lockers for the security of the customers’ belongings, that can be used for an additional Tk5. However, to access the lockers, customers initially have to submit a refundable Tk30 as security money. Rest of the money is returned upon submitting the key to the locker.
The two city corporations and WaterAid jointly opened a number of 26 such modern public toilets in the capital for the use of people so far. Watching the success of these toilets, DSCC and DNCC have planned to build around 200 more of these modern public toilets in the capital to ease the suffering of people. For people living and commuting in Dhaka, these renovated public toilets come as a sigh of relief. Nevertheless, the biggest challenge for the city authority is ensuring the sustainability of the commendable service.
“Some 300 people use the toilet everyday, many of whom are women,” says Akram, the in charge of the modernized public toilet adjacent to Panthakunja Park. “But we are prepared for a lot more,” he said adding that more women should be informed about the new women-friendly public toilets. “We have five cleaners working from 6am to 10pm and three of them are women.”
Currently, there is no security guard attached to the facilities and it is resulting in theft and damage of the toilets, informed one of the cleaners. “We try to keep things neat but due to the lack of security during the closed hours, thieves and vagabonds often try and steal things,” she complains.