Making public toilets work - part II
The author is Consultant on Urban Issues to the Editor.
(Part I appeared in this page on 9 July 2011)
The policy context
The policy context with regard to public toilet is mainly guided by the National Sanitation Strategy (2005) which provides necessary directives and identifies institutional roles with regard to installation and maintenance of public toilets. The strategy particularly says that “public and community latrines will be set-up by City Corporation/Pourashabha (Municipality) and leased out to private sector for maintenance.” It also puts emphasis on the participation of the private sector and the NGOs. The city corporations accordingly formulate their own implementation guidelines in line with this to carry out their programmes for this important public good function.
The Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) in particular does not have any separate guideline for the operation and management of public toilets in the city. However, the public service function with regard to public toilets and other related activities are detailed out in the in the Dhaka City Corporation Ordinance 19837 which had been enacted 22 years before the National Sanitation Strategy was framed and approved. Therefore, instead of providing any directives for the City Corporation to improve this important service of public sanitation, the National Sanitation Strategy only included the issues that were already in place through the existing DCC Ordinance.
The Dhaka City Corporation Ordinance: The DCC act, however, provides a clear definition of the roles and responsibilities of the Corporation with regard to Public Toilet function.8 According to this act, the DCC is solely responsible for the sanitation of the city in general, removal of refuse from all public latrines and urinals, provide and maintain in sufficient number and in proper situation, public latrines and urinals for the separate use of each sex.
The DCC Act - Part IV Chapter I: Functions in Detail (Public Health)
76. Responsibility for sanitation. The Corporation shall be responsible for the sanitation of the City, and for this purpose, it may cause such measures to be taken as are required by or under this Ordinance.
78. Removal, collection and disposal of refuse. - (1) The Corporation shall make adequate arrangements for the removal of refuse from all public streets, public latrines, urinals, drains and all buildings and land vested in the Corporation, and for the collection and proper disposal of such refuse.
79. Latrines and urinals. (1) The Corporation may and, if so required by the Government, shall provide and maintain, in sufficient number and in proper situation, public latrines and urinals for the separate use of each sex, and shall cause the same to be kept in proper order, and to be properly cleaned.
A closer review of the DCC act suggests that it has clear guidance about the roles and responsibilities of DCC with regard to public toilet function. However, the existing situation of the public toilets in the City, as presented in the earlier sections, strongly suggests that there is a high degree of implementation failure by the part of the DCC in pursuing this function properly. The study has identified a number of factors that importantly contribute to this implementation failure. The factors are as follows:
- The important public health outcomes of public toilets in the city are not adequately emphasised by the decision-makers within the Corporation.
- This inadequate emphasis influences resource allocation (in terms of human as well as financial resources) for the development and management of the service. This is reflected in the trends of development budget of the Corporation which showed no allocation for this important service function for many years.
- Responsibility within the Corporation to oversee the programme is not very well defined. Presently, there is no authority designated to oversee the public toilets in the markets and other places. This heavily impacts the overall performance.
- The existing monitoring system is not very effective to ensure quality and accessibility. This on the one hand, let the private leaseholders of the toilets use the toilets for a variety of other purposes, as mentioned earlier.
- There is a lack of flexibility in the programme itself which restricts innovation and other players to play a role.
- There is a coordination failure with other agencies that also impact on the operation of public toilet facilities. DWASA, the lead agency for water supply and sanitation in the city, has no role to play with regard to public toilet services but they have the expertise and mechanisms to contribute to this more effectively. In an absence of a functional and effective coordination mechanism, the resources at the disposal of DWASA have not been used for the improvement of public toilet services in the city. Similarly, RAJUK, the key authority responsible for physical development of the city has no role to play with regard to public toilet.
All the above factors have long-ranging implications which in turn result in the sustenance of an ineffective system for so long. The existing leasing out to private operators for operation and maintenance of the toilets constructed by the DCC is mainly providing private good in favour of the lease holders.
Importance of public toilets overlooked: Policies and strategies to a greater extent recognise the importance of public toilet in the cities of Bangladesh. There is however wide ignorance of this important public service in Dhaka City. There is a serious gap between policy and programme, and there is negligence on the part of the implementer DCC, which has produced a dysfunctional system in favour of a group of individual private leaseholders. The study has also identified that there has been a lack of initiative from those who are responsible to keep the system functioning to improve the system which could result in effective service provision for the citizenry.
Issues of demand and supply ignored: The pace of incredibly rapid population growth in the city demands a progressive growth of public toilets in number. However, the growth of public toilet in the city has a reverse trend as the number of operational toilets is decreasing with time. There are only 47 public toilets operating with open access in the city of Dhaka with the population over 14 million where about 5.5 million populations need public toilet service. There is no scientific estimate available about the number of public toilets that may be required in the city to serve this huge population. Yet, one can infer that the current number of public toilet is grossly inadequate. So, although the sanitation strategy puts emphasis on the provision of public toilets in adequate numbers, it practically has no implication. Many of the existing toilets are not appropriately located in the city, which also suggests that demand aspect (in terms of population concentration) is not considered in locating the public toilets. Although UPHCP had financial allocation for constructing public toilets in Dhaka, neither RAJUK nor DCC allocated land for public toilets.
Policies impeding development: The policy instruments which presently direct and control the physical and spatial growth of the city are strong impediments to future development in the public toilet service in the city. There is no allocation of land space earmarked for public toilet in the Detail Area Plan (DAP), which is the key instrument for RAJUK to guide the spatial growth of the city. This will become a key obstacle for any future development to increase the number of public toilets in the city. BNBC has many loopholes through which buildings are being constructed in the city without adequate number and necessary standard of public toilets proportionate to the demand. The city is expanding by the private developers and by the government itself through the development of new residential areas without any provision of public toilet facilities. The DCC as the lead agency to provide the service of public toilet in the city has never voiced concerns against any of these policy obstacles.
Ineffective implementation approach: Public toilets in the city are being operated based on a unique private-public partnership approach, a much talked about and much emphasised approach in the current policy and development discourse. However, the situation of public toilet service in Dhaka City suggests that this approach is not an effective one, at least for the operation of public toilet function in its existing modality (toilets constructed by the DCC, leased out to the private operators in a competitive bidding process for operation). It is, therefore, important to identify the loopholes of the approach itself as well as to see how this approach could be more effective in providing the service of standard. It also requires openness in the programme and scope in the policy to encourage and promote other players to take on roles, such as provision of a mobile toilet by a private initiator or NGO.
Ineffective management and oversight functions: The roles of stakeholders at different levels such as the local Ward Commissioners and local people are not defined in the management function of the public toilets. The overseeing responsibilities has been transferred to the Zonal Offices of the DCC, however, the study findings suggest that they are yet to take proper initiative to overseeing the public toilets. There is a mention of a committee in the terms and condition of the lease to oversee management and maintenance of the public toilets. However, formation of such a committee or its visit is yet to be noted and recorded. There is no evidence that the DCC has taken any measure against the existing malpractices identified by the study. Higher charges are taken by the leaseholders; the toilets are being used for other purposes such as selling water, washing cars, etc, using public toilets as a place of night stay or as shops, by the leaseholders in open. Hygienic situation and cleanliness of the toilets are of an extremely low standard. Many toilets have no water or electricity connections for long. All these are strong evidences that the existing oversight mechanism does not work properly. In other words, the existing dismal situation of the public toilet service is a product of the dysfunctional oversight system. With regard to the other types of public toilets in the city which also provide similar services with some variations in access there is no overseeing mechanism in place. As a result, the service standard is deteriorating. Toilets in stadiums demonstrate such a trend. Even in the National Stadiums toilets were converted into shops and the men folk are somewhat compelled to urinate in open, creating public nuisance.
Coordination among agencies is absent: In order to be effective it is extremely important to have a coordination mechanism among the key agencies. In addition to intra-DCC coordination among its different departments, the DCC also needs the support of some other key agencies like DWASA, the electric supply authority and to some extent law enforcing agencies to provide this service. Lack of coordination is aggravating the situation.
Exclusion of women, poor and floating people: The existing system of toilet operation by the private leaseholders systematically excludes women, poor and the floating people from the benefits of the toilet services who need this service most. This exclusion does not mean that the system functions in favour of the rich, rather it means that the majority of the people are excluded from the services. As a result, everybody in the city suffers. The 'pay for use' system and the existing rates are both heavily inconsistent with the ability of the majority of the intended users. As a result, most people deliberately stay away from using these toilets.
Resultant health hazards and associated public health risks: The health hazards associated with open defecation cover an area well researched in all contexts in Bangladesh and elsewhere. Policies and strategies are also informed about this and accordingly there are many programmes to address this important issue. Despite that it is surprising to see that the issue of public toilet is not addressed well in the context of Dhaka in particular and in the cities and towns of the country in general. With a population of current volume and density in the city, this public health risk is even higher. There are other facets of this problem too. In an absence of sufficient and operational public toilet facilities in the city, people are either forced to retain or defecate in open. Bangladesh Police Act prohibits urination and defecation in public, a public nuisance and therefore punishable. If this act is enforced strictly, it is obvious the retention rate will increase significantly, which may cause enormous health impacts. The health impact on particularly women who are even more strongly forced to retain, is enormous, an aspect that demand systematic research.
Role of corporate bodies unexplored: Although public toilets in the city are managed through a private-public partnership modality, the scope of corporate bodies playing CSR to maintain this important public health service and providing free access to the poor people has never been explored.
Making public toilets work
The review suggests that there are policy directions to address this important public good function. Gaps or inadequacies identified in this review are not very difficult to address. Based on the findings we would like to communicate the following messages for making public toilet works:
a. As per the existing ordinance, public toilet service delivery is the mandate of DCC and it has to be performed by DCC. The existing situation with regard to the DCC-owned public toilets suggests that the corporation does not have the political will, capacity and capability to discharge this function properly. The situation suggests an overall urban governance failure and a lack of accountability in the system. Systemic improvement needs to be developed with proper consultation and participation of the local elected representatives, Zonal Executive Officers, Sanitary Inspectors, urban experts, NGOs active in urban setting, users, other important stakeholders; and experiences from the neighbouring countries. We need to make it an important issue in the election manifesto of the upcoming election of the LGIs of Dhaka city.
b. There are very few public toilets with open access in Dhaka City. Unless land allocated for public toilets it is unlikely that the demand would be met. In such a situation, strong directives from the high up of the state functions to allocate land as well as innovative approaches like placement of mobile toilets in the critical points of the city need to be considered. Livelihood opportunities with dignity should be created in such approaches. DCC, DWASA, RAJUK, DMP, BRTA and CSR of different companies need to work together in this regard. Also the gaps identified in the DAP, BNBC and other related policies are needed to be bridged with priority.
c. The existing state of public toilet operation clearly shows a coordination failure. There are other actors, such as the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Ministry of Communication, Ministry of Inland Water Transport, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Dhaka Metropolitan Police, BRTA, etc which has a role to play to improve the quality and access of the public toilets. Improved coordination amongst the different government agencies especially DCC, RAJUK, DWASA and other stakeholders will improve the situation; and DCC needs to play anchor role.
d. The existing DCC-owned toilets are being operated in a much talked about 'public-private' partnership arrangement. The outcome of this partnership is so dismal at least for Dhaka city that the whole system and in many instances the whole infrastructure become dysfunctional. Therefore, it is important to revisit the operational modality and contents of this venture so that a functional system can be produced. “Not for profit” private management or management by the NGOs as in UPHCP should be encouraged at this stage to set the standard of public toilet system in the country.
e. The current 'pay for use' modality of operation significantly reduces the access of the poor people to the service. There are ways to address this. It is important to find out an efficient way so that without taking financial burden on the part of the government, services could be provided to the poor for free or at a subsidized rate. It is also important to explore the possibility and way of linking CSR with this important public good function. CSR funds could be an important source to develop this service as well as to ensure access of the poor.
The above list of messages is not an exhaustive one. However, citizens, civil society organizations, government agencies and all other stakeholders now need to discuss these and frame a holistic and effective public toilet strategy. This could guide a new system and override the hindering factors to make an efficient public toilet system not only in Dhaka but also in other cities in Bangladesh.