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‘The goal is to build more accessible public toilets for all’

  • Published at 02:01 pm September 15th, 2020

Bhumijo -- an organization that promises to provide a complete public sanitation service

As someone who lives in Dhaka, one of the biggest problems we face is the lack of access to public toilets. In a city of two crore inhabitants, there are hardly sufficient public restrooms, according to a study by ActionAid Bangladesh, in association with UK Aid, more than 90 per cent of public toilets run by the two city corporations are unusable. The facilities were reported unsafe, with 54 per cent of them lacking proper sanitation facilities. In many incidents, women usually drink less water to delay or to avoid going to these toilets which may have major health consequences like UTIs and kidney diseases.

According to a report published by the Dhaka Tribune last year, there are only 67 (as per 2019) public toilets available for pedestrians. Things only get more difficult if you are a woman, and finding a proper public restroom that works is next to impossible. There are other additional problems, especially for those who belong to the third gender -- neither are they allowed to use the male restrooms nor the women’s.

Farhana Rashid, an architect and an entrepreneur who is currently working on the sanitation issues focusing currently on Dhaka. Farhana is the co-founder of Bhumijo, an organization that promises to provide a complete public sanitation service. After graduating as an architecture student back in 2010, she completed her further studies from abroad after securing a scholarship. During her time as a student in Bangladesh, she realized that the problem with public sanitation was immense and needed to be addressed soon. After returning to her motherland, she decided to work on Bhumijo, the pilot operations of which started back in August, 2017. To put the figures for the lack of public toilets into perspective, there should be at least 3,000 such restrooms available for the general people in Dhaka, according to Bhumijo.

Bhumijo targets everyone to use their services, regardless of gender and background. Separate compartments for each gender, including for members of the third gender. Inside the structures, sanitary products are also available for consumers to purchase, such as sanitary napkins and diapers. Innovative architectural ideas are also in focus, so it creates a better ambience which is both hygienic and welcoming. Farhana also mentioned they are soon launching an online platform via which, anyone can locate the nearest Bhumijo restrooms (which can also currently be located using Google Maps), and even check whether they are occupied and also the quality of air inside.  The cost of using the public toilets set up by the city corporations are around Tk5 to Tk15. The cost of using Bhumijo’s restrooms is Tk10. Currently, there are seven such restrooms which are operating, one good example would be the one located at Noor Mansion in the city’s Gawsia Market -- a hub where women both young and old visit frequently for shopping. Surprisingly, before Bhumijo’s initiative, there weren’t any proper toilets in the age-old shopping hub, accessible to most women. There are other such projects that are currently operating in various parts of the city and more are on its way.

The two city corporations have planned to build around 200 more public toilets, but the problem remains with ensuring a sustainable model ensuring these public restrooms are well maintained over time. Lack of security also adds to the problem as the cleaners also complained about theft during closed hours, damaging and stealing many amenities at times. Surely, the numbers are still not adequate compared to the number of inhabitants in the city. To everyone’s relief, organizations like Bhumijo do contribute to solving this problem the city has been facing for the longest time.

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