Naznin Akhter, a working woman, stops eating or drinking anything at least an hour before leaving home for office, dreading the thought she won't find a toilet if she needs one before reaching her workplace across the severely congested roads of Dhaka.
She does the same while leaving the office after work.
But even this conscious practice has not always worked. She had to face one of her worst nightmares on a Saturday when she got stuck in a traffic jam at Farmgate for over an hour.
Naznin got off the bus in search of a public toilet, but she could not find a useable one. The young woman had to resort to requesting a security guard at a private office building to let her use their washroom.
The Dhaka city residents regularly face this embarrassment on the roads as the number of public toilets in the city is very low.
Many male commuters urinate on roadsides – without an iota of shame – polluting the city.
But the severe lack of public toilets is taking a toll on the health of those who cannot do this, and all the women and people with special needs.
According to a survey by WaterAid three years ago, about 50 lakh people moved about on the streets of Dhaka every day. Currently, the number is estimated to be around 1 crore.
Against this large number of people on the streets, there are only 103 useable public toilets in the two city corporations.
There are toilets owned by private companies in some of the busiest places in the city, but they are extremely unclean and lack separate facilities for women and the disabled.
"Most city corporation public toilets, with separate facilities for men, women, and people with special needs, are far away from key city points, and pedestrians are not able to use them when they need to. The city corporations should make more toilets like these," said Salma Begum, a city resident.
Mohammad Abul Kashem, a supervising engineer at the Dhaka North City Corporation, told The Business Standard, "The number of public toilets in the area is insufficient compared to the population. We are still building toilets in different places based on demand, but we cannot do it in all the places where we need them due to a land crisis."
Dhaka South's Supervising Engineer Munshi Md Abul Hashem told TBS, "We are trying to make public toilets in all the places where new secondary waste transfer centres are being built."
He said the city corporation is working on putting NGOs in charge of the public toilets that are currently leased to private companies.
City corporation officials said they are responsible for building, renovating, maintaining and running public toilets in the capital.
Helpless low income people
The city corporations set a charge of Tk5 for using the toilet facilities and Tk10 for bathing.
But many public toilets leased to private companies or operated through NGOs charge users double the rates, say toilet patrons.
People, especially low income workers, do not use these toilets because of the charges and rather relieve themselves in open places.
The Fulbaria intersection at Gulistan in the capital is one such place where people often urinate on the opposite side of the road in front of the public toilet.
Rajiv Biswas, an assistant to a bus driver, told TBS, "Many people come to urinate here, so I have come too. I do not like the idea of paying money to use state-run public toilets."
Lack of toilet facilities harm public health
Dr Isteaq Ahmed Shameem, chairman of urology at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, told TBS that many people suffer from various illnesses such as urinary tract infections from holding urine for a long time.
"Women are the worst victims of this. Recently, young boys and girls are also suffering from this problem at a higher rate. Repeated urinary tract infections can have a negative effect on a woman's fertility," he said.
Moreover, toxins can reach kidneys and form stones there if someone holds urine for a long time.
Holding urine for long can also cause a swollen bladder. If someone who already has a kidney problem keeps holding urine, their kidneys will gradually start to lose their capacity. This can lead to various types of infections, including blood infections.
Dr Adil Muhammad Khan, former general secretary of Bangladesh Institute of Planners, told TBS that the two city corporations still have to build more public toilets.
"If it is not possible to make public toilets on a large scale, they should do it on a small scale. The city corporations have to find land for building them and maintain them properly as they are one of the most important components for a modern city," he added.
Adil said the city corporations can take steps to make toilets accessible to the public at mosques, markets, and fuel and gas pumps.