Reply: Why are public toilets in India in such a deplorable state?

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Why are public toilets in India in such a deplorable state?

Dear all,
Sharing a recent article that reiterates the fact that most public toilets continue to be in a deplorable state. For Women, not only are the number of facilities far less than that for men, but also the status is worse. Most women prefer to hold urine than use public toilets which adversely affects their health.

Despite their less number,  public toilets for women  mostly are in unusable conditions. Most women tend to avoid these public washrooms due to their extremely unhygienic conditions. According to an online survey conducted by women empowerment organisation Pinkishe and a feminine hygiene company Sanfe, 90 per cent of Indian women are afraid of using public washrooms. 
The findings of this survey titled 'Say No To Dirty Toilets' stated, "that the public washrooms -- be it the workplace, shopping malls or hotels -- are not clean and suitable to use in the country”. In the survey, most of the travellers and shoppers admitted that “ holding urine is the only alternative  for using dirty toilets followed by urinating in semi-squat and wiping dirty toilets”.

Wondering why public toilets in the western countries are generally clean and usable? Is it literacy or culture or the presence of caretakers or is it something else? 

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paresh
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  • SusannahClemence
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Re: Why are public toilets in India in such a deplorable state?

What a good question!
Speaking solely from my own 67 years of personal experience of UK toilets, I would say it has taken a long time to get to the level of cleanliness we now expect - which is not universal.
As a child I recall public toilet cubicles had shit wiped on the walls due to lack of toilet paper, and urine on the seats and floors due to users squatting rather than sitting. A self-perpetuating situation. 
I think it's been a steady effort over decades: cleaning, sometimes physical presence of attendants, heating when it's cold, ventilation to reduce smell, attractive colourful decoration, friendly messaging on posters, even art - everything that makes the toilet feel like it's your own place. And for European habits, plenty of soft toilet paper.
The worst is when it feels like you are being told off: fixed steel seats "to protect from vandalism", signs warning you what not to do, stainless steel plate instead of mirror, bars over windows, cold, pools of bleach on the floor, no toilet paper so you have to use tissues from your pocket (which then block the loo). You just want to get out as quickly as possible.
Another important factor is space: enough floor space to get in and out, clean, dry floor to pull down trousers and not worry the cuffs will get wet, and clean dry surfaces and hooks to put bags, coats etc.
Hand washing facility inside the cubicle is an occasional bonus. 
You have made me reflect, Paresh! Things have got better.
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Re: Why are public toilets in India in such a deplorable state? (and experiences from around the world)

Hi Paresh and all,

Regarding your questions: "Wondering why public toilets in the western countries are generally clean and usable? Is it literacy or culture or the presence of caretakers or is it something else? "

I agree with Susannah that at least some public toilets in European countries have improved a lot in recent years or the last decade. I can say that for Germany, the public toilets along highways used to be pretty bad but are now generally very good. They usually now have private companies who manage them. If you want to use one you have to pay say 0.70 Euros, and they give you back a voucher of 0.50 Eur which you can spend in the shop that is attached. This works quite well I think.

But public toilets that are "unattended", like in parks, are often still bad. And vandalism is a huge problem.

On the other hand here in Australia, the public toilets are fantastic and the behaviour of the public towards them is unbelievably good in my experience. (I must sound like a broken record, I already wrote about it here on the forum three years ago: https://forum.susana.org/170-shared-toilets-community-toilets-or-public-toilets/16971-strategic-plans-for-public-toilet-management-in-australia )

Even without any minders/janitors present they always seem to be available everywhere for free, clean, with toilet paper, often (not always) with soap, not vandalised, ... I can't speak for the whole of Australia but at least here in the state of Queensland (where Brisbane is) this is my experience. In the national parks they are often composting toilets or hybrid ones (small amount of water plus composting).

One day I'd love to read someone's PhD thesis which would explain how Australia managed to get their public toilets into such
good condition. Are they the winner if there was a world ranking? I assume New Zealand's public toilets are similarly good. 

Kind regards,
Elisabeth
 
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Re: Why are public toilets in India in such a deplorable state? (and experiences from around the world)

Thank you Susannah
Your response makes  me feel good every time I read it. Thanks

Both the responses indicate that attaining a stage where one can expect hygienic and clean public toilets to be a rather long and complex process. Also probably explains why technological fixes are not a long lasting solution to this  problem which is only a manifestation of the many ills prevailing in the society. While well designed facilities are necessary, they are not the only condition. The general attitude of the society towards public facilities and setting up systems to incentivise users to keep them clean and functional is important. However as the two of you also highlight, getting over this classic wicked problem is challenging but not impossible.

Really curious to know more about the history of public toilets in Australia, would be great if someone could suggest some reference to get a hang of it. And if it is not already documented, I'd agree with Elisabeth that it is worth more than 1 PhD theses.

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paresh
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Re: Best materials for toilets

Hi Paresh, thanks for bringing this problem to light, as usual.  Those in need of sanitation will get this when they are the ones doing production and implementation.  Sorry I sound like a broken record, posting the following presentation again.  This was two months ago in the WEDC Conference, and is entitled, *Sanitary Stoneware Toilets, Production Closer to the Need.*  Whatever the toilet is made of, cleaning agents are needed, but the glassy surface of sanitary ceramic toilets can be cleaned to a significant extent by water only.   drive.google.com/file/d/1_T5ejTp8JmyBp2t...7Oa/view?usp=sharing
All the best, Reid
Anthony Reid Harvey, ceramic industrial designer
Africa Prosperity Inc.
Niagara Falls, NY USA
Here is a video presentation that gives an overview of ceramic WASH and development interventions:
Harvey, Anthony Reid (2021): Sanitary stoneware toilets: production closer to the need. Loughborough University. Conference contribution. hdl.handle.net/2134/16941193.v1
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  • Nyembezi
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Re: Why are public toilets in India in such a deplorable state?

Dear Paresh,

Interesting conversation here, I couldn’t agree with you any less on how unhygienic public toilets have continued to be. The situation in India is not any different from most African countries, I can attest to the lack of soap and safe toilets. Sadly, women and girls have continued to be affected by poor WASH conditions. These challenges impede productivity and time for recreation and also inadequate toilets negatively impacts our dignity.  

It is common in Zambia, for public toilets to lack access to adequate water supply, sanitation and washing facilities which negatively affects users.  For example, students and school going children will drop out especially among girls. Similarly, Zimbabwe’s public toilets are not in the best condition as reported in an article shared here ( https://www.herald.co.zw/state-of-city-public-toilets-deplorable/ ).

I came across an article on the importance of toilets in the provision of health services. The article highlights that sometimes the situation is exasperated by the public users who do not exhibit toilet etiquette ( http://www.daily-mail.co.zm/the-importance-of-toilets-in-the-provision-of-health-services/ ). Sometimes the local authorities do their best to ensure these public toilets are maintained by hiring janitors but the attitude of users themselves is the problem.

I do really look forward to a time when public toilets will be less dirty and convenient for use at all times .

Kind regards,
Rosemary
Junior Consultant at the African Women Sanitation Professionals Network Zambia Chapter (AWSPN-ZC)
Project Associate at CaDev
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Re: Why are public toilets in India in such a deplorable state?

Thank you Reid and Rosemary for responding. 

Reid, Agree with the need of local production of sanitary ware in general. But I fail to connect how that is linked to the poor state of public toilets. As others have pointed out,  the poor state is a reality also in the Global North. Further, you said

Those in need of sanitation will get this when they are the ones doing production and implementation

Could you please elaborate a bit on that statement. If you mean that people who need sanitation will get it only they are involved in production and implementation of sanitary products or services, I don't think I'd agree with it. Not everyone in need of service is likely to have time. Further, often people involved in service provision are most likely to not have access to them.  In India for example, services are poor in slum (informal) settlements where most workers involved in service provision likely live. 

Rosemary, your point regarding attitude of the users and vandalism is well taken. Often the people living around such facilities sell  equipment used in the facility for quick and easy cash. Public toilets with missing taps, latches, and even doors are not uncommon. I recently witnessed theft of brass fittings on a small treatment unit placed in a public park (see image below). It is off course linked to the broader state of economy and lack of civic sense/pride. But if the community feels they own the facility, such vandalism is unlikely. 


What do you think?

Regards
paresh
Paresh Chhajed-Picha
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  • reidharvey7734
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Re: Reply: Why are public toilets in India in such a deplorable state?

Thanks Paresh, for the good work that you?re doing with sanitation. As you mentioned, I make the point that WASH and development will only be sustainable and affordable to those in dire poverty, when they are the ones doing the production and implementation. I presume that when people are told for the first time, that they are indeed capable of doing the production and implementation of the devices and interventions of WASH and development, this will serve as a powerful motivation to follow up with maintenance. People will get livelihoods. Communities will gain resilience and self-sufficiency. There will then be sufficient money to compensate well, those who do the work of sanitation. Industry starts with ceramics and the high temperature processes. This can be nature-based, undertaken from the grassroots, almost anywhere.



In case you have not seen the following presentation, please have a look. This was presented on September 13, 2021, while I was here, in Rwanda doing training, just as I am now.

Harvey, Anthony Reid (2021): *Sanitary stoneware toilets: production closer to the need*. Loughborough University. Conference contribution. hdl.handle.net/2134/16941193.v1 [image: biz card for footer.jpg]
All the best, Reid
Anthony Reid Harvey, ceramic industrial designer
Africa Prosperity Inc.
Niagara Falls, NY USA
Here is a video presentation that gives an overview of ceramic WASH and development interventions:
Harvey, Anthony Reid (2021): Sanitary stoneware toilets: production closer to the need. Loughborough University. Conference contribution. hdl.handle.net/2134/16941193.v1
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Re: Reply: Why are public toilets in India in such a deplorable state?

To answer this question we may want to ask WASH national authorities who led a huge sanitation campaign and actually said India had achieved the highest levels of adequate sanitation a few weeks before re-election. If the situation has degraded since, or maybe it was not that good, it must be because the campaign has stopped. Most probably the poor WASH status is a result of considering WASH only as an engineering problem any passing the fact that achieving improved WASH is "a social change process requiring participatory, inclusive, and decentralized processes" as underlined in the recent National WASH Conclave 2022.
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Re: Reply: Why are public toilets in India in such a deplorable state?

Thanks Alex.
Just to be on the same page, the national campaign focused on household level toilets. Some time while it was being implemented, the government started claiming it to be a behaviour change campaign. Given that it was construction targets that were stressed and monitored, that claim can be challenged. Nonetheless, the campaign still was successful in increasing coverage at an unprecedented pace.

The question is related to public facilities that are sometimes pay to use. Increasingly, I have come to think that it is a manifestation of the more structural challenges societies face such as high unemployment, and lack of economic opportunities, lack of social consciousness and civic sense, inequity, discrimination based on caste, race, etc, patriarchy and many others. Sometimes such facilities may face vandalism because the process of their planning or its location put a certain group to disadvantage and that is the only way they can protest. Poor public toilets is more of a symptom and therefore no solution that overlooks these deeper structural causes is going to last long, it will be a band-aid at best.

I agree with you that the social change process needs more attention and sustained efforts. And examples of such turnaround is what I was also seeking when I posed that question. 

Regards
paresh
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