It is not often that newspapers write editorials on toilets. But the way the issue keeps resurfacing is an embarrassment and some urgent attention is required. For after all, the lack of toilets and the deplorable state of our toilets are reflecting badly on our contemporary culture of hygiene and civic sense.
It is normal for the average Bhutanese to not be worried about no toilets when they are on the road. But that is because we never had a choice. A scanty bush, enough to just cover the face or the nether regions will do. Some don’t even need a bush and are brave enough to go in the open.
The issue is about the tourists, the US dollar paying tourists, not having a place to relieve themselves when nature calls. Many have complained and will continue to do so if we don’t improve our toilets.
Not many tourists who complained will come back to see if Bhutanese toilets have improved, but one common feedback most tourists leave behind is on the lack of an important amenity. Besides the risk of falling down a hill or leeches grabbing on, many wouldn’t dare to relieve themselves in the open as it is not in their culture.
Let’s not take the chance of our reputation being harmed by the state of our toilets when tourists talk to other potential tourists about their visit to Bhutan.
What is alarming is that the issue is not new. It has been raised several times in the past but surprisingly, not much has been done. There is a plan to develop 18 restrooms throughout the country by 2018. It may be two years of waiting, but thankfully, there is something planned.
But it would be unreasonable for the tourism industry to expect the government to build toilets for tourists along the road. A lot could be done if they take some ownership and contribute to a facility that they are continuously feeling pressed for.
Building toilets along the highway may be very expensive for a poor country, but it is a necessity today, especially with tourism being our bread and butter.
Unlike the tourists, the public are not really complaining, but that doesn’t mean they are happy. If a small corner or a dark alley is good enough for a toilet, it is not because of choice. It is the lack of facilities.
Forget the highways, right here in the capital city of Bhutan, the lack of public toilets is a constant problem, even for Bhutanese citizens.
During huge gatherings, like Wang ceremonies, the lack of toilets becomes a big problem. Besides our most sacred memorial Choeten there is a foul smelling area. Dzongs and monasteries that are most visited, both by tourists and locals alike should get the priority if ever there is a plan. The sanctity of the place could be defiled when hundreds of people visit them, say on an auspicious day, and there are no toilets.
At the same time, a lot also depends on the how public facilities are used or misused. A visit to a public toilet is enough to tell that much needs to be done in terms of education and awareness. Many public toilets have reminders to flush after use. We need reminders and warnings not to use sticks and stones, spit doma in the basins, squat on western pots, vandalize the equipment, among others. Much needs to be done.
There is also a need for us to accord more priority to those taking care of our toilets by providing them with more incentives, perhaps by paying them an income and also letting them keep their earnings from toilet uses. Such an investment might be smarter than endlessly experimenting on the expressway.