In a busy city like Chittagong, where around 60 lakh of its commuters have to spend a huge chunk of time on roads, there are only 43 public toilets for them.
Women are the worst sufferers as none of these public toilets are suitable for them, who despite necessity avoid using those.
The toilets are in an appalling state due to a lack of maintenance and negligence of the authorities concerned.
Of the 43 toilets, which are leased out by the Chittagong City Corporation, three are closed due to complexities in leasing procedures, while another one is closed for renovation, according to CCC officials.
Visiting some of the public toilets recently in Railway Station, New Market and Halishahar Boropool areas it was seen that the inside of the lavatories was damp and not properly cleaned. Most of the doors were unhinged and the overall conditions were unhygienic.
Sirajum Munira, a private company employee, said, “I don't use the public toilets. There are no toilet facilities for women. On some of the doors, they [caretakers of the toilets] write 'for women', but those are used by men frequently.”
Kamrun Nahar Sanjida, a final-year student of Chittagong University, said, “Just by looking at the toilets from outside gives me the creeps…”
“It is the duty of the city corporation to ensure toilet facilities for all. They are showing an utter negligence in this regard,” she added.
Khursida Akhter, a garment worker in EPZ area, echoed Munira and Sanjida.
This correspondent also spoke to some of the leaseholders. They, however, claimed that the toilets were in “a good condition and being taken care of properly”.
On the other hand, the caretaker of the public toilet in Boropool area pointed towards an almost unhinged door and said, “Look, we have written 'women' on it. They [women] can use it.”
When asked about its unhygienic condition, he evaded the question.
Contacted, Sahed Iqbal Babu, councillor of Ward 2 (Jalalabad area), said, “There are no public toilets in my ward. There is an inter-district bus terminal in the area (Oxygen), used by many. But a lack of public toilets makes people suffer.”
“It is true that women are suffering due to the problem. We are trying to set up a public toilet in the area soon,” he said.
Contacted, Ujjal Sikdar, an activist of Dushtha Shasthya Kendra, a development organisation, said, “Public toilets are not suitable for women.” He said they have tried to set up women-friendly public toilets, but failed due to a lack of space.
“We are renovating a public toilet in Lal Dighi area, which will be women-friendly. The work will be finished by next month,” he added.
According to a 2014 research titled, “State of Cities: Governance for a Liveable Chittagong”, by Brac Institute of Governance and Development, quality of public toilets is a matter of concern while around 57 percent of people reported that they did not have access to public toilets. The low access to public toilets is attributed to a lack of cleanliness.
Admitting the sufferings of women commuters, CCC Chief Executive Officer Md Shamsuddoha said, “We have a plan to renovate all the existing public toilets where we will also ensure proper facilities and safety measures for women.”
“We are facing difficulties setting up new ones due to a space crisis. We are trying our best in this regard,” he added.