Besides the public transport mayhem, the shortage of public rest rooms has become the single biggest problem for commuters in the capital Kathmandu.
Geeta Gautam, a first year student of Green Tara College of Health Science, usually avoids drinking water before leaving the house. The reason? Finding an appropriate public rest room to empty her bladder is next to impossible. “Until it starts to get into my head, I don’t go to the public rest room,” says Gautam. But when she does, she faces the inevitable unpleasant smell and conditions of the rest room, often leaving her nauseated.
A street vendor begging anonymity, reports, “How can a person like me, who has to save every single penny to run my household, pay Rs. 3 just to pee! Given no other option, he does his business behind the bushes or discreetly in an alley. In such, drinking water never comes to mind unless he is dehydrated.
Cutting back on water intake or holding back on urination because there are no clean and affordable public toilets nearby, can in both cases cause health problems, like kidney failure and urinary tract infections, respectively.
There are only 33 public rest rooms (including those in business complexes such as Bishal Bazaar) to cater to the Kathmandu Valley’s 3,000,000-strong population. Even these latrines contain no facilities for children and physically-challenged. Two restrooms in Kuleshwor and Boudha are out of order, while places such as Durbar Marg and Thamel, two of Kathmandu’s biggest tourist hubs, have no public restrooms at all.
[...] The Kathmandu Muncipal Council (KMC) is not entirely to blame. ‘As there are no free spaces available in busy areas such as Putalisadak, building restrooms is impossible. To make such places more people-friendly we are in the pipeline to install mobile restrooms,” says Chief of Environment Management Department at KMC Rabin Man Shrestha.
[...] A recent study conducted by the Green Youth Network, an informal network of environmental science students, on eleven different public restrooms (excluding mall and mobile restrooms), show 90% of public rest rooms operated under the KMC are cleaned three times a day. The general public consistently lists “no proper sanitation measures used in the public lavatory” among its top concerns.
But, according to research, 18% of public rest rooms in the Valley do not have a water supply and 55% use tainted water. Only 45% provide soap.
[...] Beside the low priority given by the government to public rest rooms, the public plays its part in adding to deteriorating conditions of such common property. Complaints on how irresponsible the public is when it comes to public rest rooms come from operators and caretakers. Users not paying the charge, dumping rubbish in the pans, thereby blocking toilet function, and spitting wherever they like tops their list of grievances.
The same research shows that the number of men who visit public rest rooms is higher than women. An average of 12-38 women visit the public lavatory per day compared with 45-140 men. The reason for this may be the lack of women-friendly rest rooms in the Valley. Male and female rest rooms usually have the same entrance, doors have holes and lack proper ventilation.
A busiest public rest room in Ratnapark has several non-functioning doors in the ladies’ rest rooms and also lack proper flush systems. Ajay Deuja, a money collector in this rest room wears a facemask to avoid the foul smell. “The rest room is much cleaner than it is used to be couple of years back,” says Deuja.
To ensure proper function and sanitation management, the KMC sends staff to public rest rooms for thorough examinations, according to Rabin Man Shrestha. Some rest rooms are also leased to private sectors or individuals as it has been found that leased public latrines are better managed in terms of sanitation and hygiene. “A public restroom is much cleaner in places like the one in Ratnapark, which has other services such as hair-cutting salons and juice shops,” says Shrestha.
Rest rooms in some shopping centers, such as Kathmandu Mall, are a haven for shoppers as they are comparatively cleaner and women-friendly. The newest addition is the mobile rest room which has people thronging in it and is currently installed in Basantapur Durbar Square. But there have been complaints of its odd location.
In addition to the above complaints is the high charge to use the public rest rooms. Public rest rooms charge Rs. 3 to urinate and Rs. 5 to excrete. However, Rabin Man Shrestha claims the situation to be different. “The official rate for public comfort rooms is Rs. 2 and Rs. 3 respectively, according to the nature of use,” adds Shrestha. “Recently a warning notice has been circulated to one of the rest rooms near Ratnapark which allegedly charged more than the actual rate.”
Source: Republica / NGO Forum, 26 Jun 2009