Thinking out of the (toilet) bowl

Whether in the bush, in an alley, on a steep cliff or by a river, Bhutanese can comfortably answer nature’s call. This may be for practical reasons when toilets are rare and not a priority.
Having to excrete the waste material in the body is a biological process. How we do it differs based on many factors. In Bhutan, we did it from the ‘hanging toilets’ the ‘suicide toilets’ and the most common – in the open.
A lot has changed. There was lot of focus on sanitation and hygiene stretching back to more than a decade. We now have toilets: in the parks, at the work place, sports grounds and other public places. But old habits die hard, and some of us still do the old style. If our toilets are one of the few in the world where users have to be reminded to flush after use, some have warnings glaring at your face to not use sticks and stones.
As we joined the world in observing the first ever UN endorsed World Toilet Day, there is a lot to reflect on a simple thing like using a toilet. First is on the importance of having it, in both quantity and quality. The absence of toilets makes us experts at going anywhere. That’s why every nook and corner in the city stinks.
Cleanliness comes next. If toilets are clean, users will visit them, thus saving the open places from being abused. Others will follow to keep it clean. It just takes one person to do it in the right place. Most important of all, is changing the attitude of doing it in the right place and in the right way.
Humour abounds when we talk of toilets or poop. But the facts behind them are dangerous. The public health department’s information leaflet highlights the risks. There are 10 million viruses in a gramme of faeces. We can only imagine the consequences of the hundreds of grammes of faeces that we see everywhere.
That is showing. In 2014, almost 58,200 Bhutanese were hospitalized or visited the hospital for diarrhoea. The patients include those below one year to over 65 years.
If diarrhoea is caused by contaminated food, water and environment, 40 percent of our population does not have access to improved sanitation. If the two are related, the consequences will be damaging.
There is a small revolution, a welcome move. The Bhutan Toilet Organization, a non-profit organisation, repaired or cleaned most of the public toilets in the country. The volunteers will not be there to do it everyday, but this should have created some awareness.
The problems are simple – missing or blocked taps, absence of water or ownership. It is not difficult to build or maintain a toilet if we care. In some public toilets, a little fee ensures cleanliness and a few jobs. The cost of a Land Cruiser Prado could build at least 100 proper toilets in our schools.
Clean toilets will not only save lives. There are more connections. When asked what happiness was to her, a Nangkhor student surprised the surveyor when she said, “clean toilet’.

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