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The sanitation saga

  • Published at 12:02 am November 12th, 2016
The sanitation saga

I had the misfortune to take a burn patient to the Dhaka Medical College Burn Unit recently. I, as an attendant of the patient, had to spend about two weeks in the vicinity and had the opportunity to observe the goings-on at DMCH.

Among many irregularities and inconsistencies, I counted that on an average about a thousand visitors go to the burn unit every day. About 200 people spend the night there with about a little more than a hundred patients at the intensive care unit and high dependency unit.

There are about a thousand people who are doing various kinds of business in the area. To my utter surprise, I haven’t seen any toilet facilities for the visitors either inside the hospital, or in the area outside for the people who are gathering there for their livelihood.

One day, standing outside, I saw a salesman from a pharmacy come into the hospital boundaries for relieving himself in the field behind the burn unit. I asked him: “What do you usually do when you need to go to the toilet?” He replied: “When the gates of the mosque is open, we go to the mosque; but usually this field is our only choice.”

If you go to the main building of DMCH, you’d discover many unexpected pictures as far as toilet facilities are concerned. One may say: “Come on, this is DMCH! You can’t expect proper facilities there!”

Agreed. But what about the other hospitals? The private medical colleges? What facilities do they have in this regard? I was asking this question to one of the directors of a privately-run medical college and she said: “It’s impossible to keep the toilets in order as the visitors who use them make them very dirty. Our cleaners have to work round the clock to keep them usable.” She opined that aside from providing proper toilet facilities in the hospitals, there should be behavioural changes among the users.

She is right in her observation. While we build more public toilets across the country, our attitude and behaviour while using toilets are also something to think about. Remember the recent council meeting of Awami League in Ramna Racecourse? About 50,000 people had gathered in the park. But does anyone know how many makeshift toilets were built there on the occasion of the meeting? Very few.

Our problem is not just the lack of toilets; rather, we have a lack of management of running the toilets, and we surely lack the common sense to use the toilets

Having an insufficient number of toilets, including public toilets, is no doubt a serious cause for concern. If we look at the two major cities, Dhaka and Chittagong, we see that the new mayors have been trying their best.

However, the two city corporations in Dhaka have only 69 public toilets, which is insufficient. Now they’re providing toilet facilities to the city dwellers through 53 mobile toilets in 34 places. Dhaka South City Corporation mayor has recently said that they would install 100 more modern public toilets in the area by 2017. That’s a piece of good news. Although Chittagong city’s population is reportedly about 600,000, there are only 38 public toilets available for its residents.

We have a clear idea about the public toilets across the country. We do not have proper facilities in the markets, educational institutions, etc -- I haven’t seen any facility in Gausia Market. I also haven’t seen any facility in the super shops that people flock to these days.

If we go to people’s residents in the urban areas, it’s clear that people on average are negligent and nonchalant when it comes to toilets for their own use. On the other hand, there are countries that put equal emphasis on their lavatories as well as their bedrooms.

For us, it’s a cultural issue. Culturally, we tend to buy big vehicles before building proper streets and proper parking spaces. Likewise, we also build big establishments without making proper toilet facilities.

Our problem is not just the lack of toilets; rather, we have a lack of management of running the toilets, and we surely lack the common sense to use the toilets. Almost all Bangladeshis think that he or she would be the last person to use any toilet. Therefore, there’s a tendency to use them in not the most hygienic of ways.

I remember my days in Dhaka University in the mid 80s and early 90s when we couldn’t enter our toilets in the Arts Faculty. That was many years ago; but the situation hasn’t changed even after so long.

Haven’t we become more conscious and aware about using our toilets? I’d like to believe that we have.

Ekram Kabir is a fiction writer.

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