Dhaka has a myriad of perennial problems but the dearth of public toilets should not be one of them as some of the modern lavatories built by the city corporation received mass appreciation.
The capital city with a population of more than 20 million has 122 serviceable public toilets at present which is not a promising number by any standard but it surely is an improvement from what it was even a few years ago.
A study conducted some three years ago by WaterAid Bangladesh, an international non-governmental organisation focused on water, sanitation and hygiene, showed that there were only 49 public toilets for the five million people who travel on the roads of Dhaka every day and most of them were unusable.
Dhaka North and South currently have 158 public toilets but not all of them are accessible, unfortunately. The number, however, is likely to go up as more modern toilets are being constructed and some old ones are being revamped.
These public toilets are leased to various organisations for management. City dwellers have to spend Tk5- 10 to use the facilities.
Dhaka North has recently built a lavatory with all modern facilities, including separate arrangements for men and women, in front of the Ananda Cinema Hall in Farmgate. About 400 to 600 people use this facility every day.
Roshan Ara, a user of this public toilet in Farmgate, told The Business Standard (TBS), "It is good for us that there is a separate system for women here. It is properly cleaned and users have to pay Tk5 for using the facility."
There is another such public toilet in the Panthpath area of Dhaka South with separate arrangements for men and women.
Sultan Ahmed, a public toilet user here, told TBS, "I did not know there were such beautiful public toilets here. If only such toilets were available at all bus stands. City dwellers would not have to worry over going to toilets while sitting in gridlocks for hours."
"There are good-quality public toilets in some parts of Dhaka but the condition of the rest is not very good. If the city corporation maintains these toilets well, people will use them by paying money," he added.
Many people told TBS that they are more comfortable using toilets that are clean and have separate chambers for men and women.
While most of the public toilets in Dhaka North are modern and accessible to all, nearly half of the public toilets in Dhaka South are not accessible to all.
According to the information provided by the two city corporations, 64 out of the 67 public toilets in Dhaka North's 54 wards are in use while 30 out of the 91 toilets in Dhaka South's 75 wards are unusable.
The two city corporations are responsible for the construction, renovation, maintenance and management of public toilets in the capital. All expenses will be borne by their own funds or other non-government charity or developmental funds.
Dhaka North has allotted only Tk1.50 crore for the construction, repair and maintenance of public toilets in the financial year 2022-23. In the last fiscal, Dhaka North did not spend a single penny in this sector.
Dhaka South on the other hand spent only Tk 45 lakh on the construction of public toilets in the last fiscal and allotted Tk 3 crore in FY2022-23.
According to the two city corporations, public toilets are now being constructed at different places in the city based on demand. However, it is not possible to build the necessary number of toilets due to the unavailability of land in some places.
Due to the shortage of public toilets, there is a tendency among women to hold their urine for a long time and not to eat anything especially water when outside. As a result of this, women suffer from various physical complications.
Physicians said not only women but men also suffer from various types of physical complications including urinary tract infections.
Amid emergencies, some city dwellers even urinate on the side of the road, on the sidewalk, and behind trees.
A pedestrian, who was seen urinating on the side of the road in the Paribagh area of Dhaka South, told TBS, "If there is no public toilet, then you have to do it on the side of the road. I was sitting in a traffic jam for hours and I had to go as soon as I get off the bus."
WaterAid Bangladesh is the first organisation to take action on the theme "Making the Public Toilet Work" to improve the situation of public toilets. It has built 32 public toilets so far in partnership with Dhaka North and South.
Hasin Jahan, country director at WaterAid Bangladesh, told TBS that the unavailability of public toilets amid ever-increasing traffic congestion in Dhaka creates a public health problem.
"There is no lack of goodwill from the two city mayors for constructing more public toilets but the problem is not being solved due to some bureaucratic complications," he added.
Prof Ishtiak Ahmed Shamim, chairman of the Department of Urology at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, told TBS that women suffer the most health issues due to holding urine and faeces for too long in traffic gridlocks. It can even have a negative impact on women's fertility. Young boys and girls are also affected by urinary tract infections.
"Due to long-term retention of faeces and urine, toxic substances can reach the kidneys and form kidney stones," the physician added.
World Toilet Day is observed on 19 November every year to ensure 100% hygienic toilet facilities. The day is being celebrated in Bangladesh like in other countries of the world.