Building healthy sanitation systems around Dhaka
Bhumijo is a social enterprise that focuses on environmentally and economically viable innovations, and is known for incorporating architectural design and urban planning in their project that ensures gender sensitive sanitation services around Dhaka.
Most public toilets around Bangladesh suffer from negligence and lack of maintenance, causing what is a bare necessity to become troublesome for people on the roads. Knowing that convenient or healthy sanitation systems around the city are rare, women often resort to drastic measures such as not drinking water all day when they are out, or forcefully suppressing their need to go to a washroom entirely. More often than, not this results in complicated cases of urinary tract infection, which women are already more susceptible to than men.
Having suffered a personal loss from this very disease, Bhumijo's CEO Farhana Rashid decided to act. She, along with Bhumijo's co-founder Masudul Islam, began this enterprise's journey by first conducting surveys to collect necessary data regarding Dhaka. Eventually, when they participated with their ideas in BRAC's Urban Innovation Challenge 2016 and were one of the winners, they had the seed money to efficiently start working on developing proper public toilets for women.
"I wanted to work in finding solutions within our limited resources," says Farhana Rashid, CEO and co-founder of Bhumijo, who studied Architecture from BUET and completed her masters on sustainable urban planning and design from Stockholm.
Bhumijo provides services in small to large scales, from research to design, as well as planning and implementation. Under their project, they have built seven public toilets in Dhaka so far, with 3.5 lakh people having used their services. Public toilets made by Bhumijo offer a range of services, including menstrual products for women as well as diaper changing stations for their kids. They ensure the facilities are comfortable and inclusive of not just women, but also children, transgender people and people with disabilities.
During their initial research and brainstorming, they developed their own matrix to decide where proper sanitation systems were more urgently required. Places that were the most crowded, the type of people visiting these places, their age group and the type of work they were visiting these places for, how long they were staying, are some of the key factors.
The most important issue, however, is management. In fact, some of the biggest challenges Bhumijo has faced has been of people's skepticism regarding long-term maintenance. Bhumijo takes responsibility of maintenance and supervision that includes cleaning, staff supervision, repair, security, accounts management, data collection and environmental quality among other matters.
Bhumijo's innovative architectural ideas, use of appropriate technology and materials, and thorough research on sanitation condition, user behavior and demand and construction techniques make their toilets a self-sustaining business. Advertisement opportunities are provided at their facilities as well, to create revenue for their operational costs.
Bhumijo's recent projects include renovating the public toilets at the Dhaka Airport Railway Station, and developing a community sanitation system for the slum dwellers of Kalyanpur. They are currently working with the Dhaka City Corporation, inside five large markets including the krishi bazaar and town hall bazaar. They are experimenting with new models this time, with more advanced technologies that have been incorporated with the user's comfort in mind. "Renovating toilets is a pressing concern, and the government has been supportive," says Farhana.
At present, in support of the frontline workers, Bhumijo started a project of installing paddle-operated system in washrooms, which should enable a zero-contact process. The first ones are already in use at the Dhaka Medical College and Hospital, and more locations will be covered soon. Additionally, they are providing disinfecting services.
Bhumijo plans to manage 150 more of such facilities. They are grateful to BRAC, Unilever, Toilet Board Coalition, faculty members of BUET and the team of enthusiastic supporters they have had that range from engineers, architects and urban planners to environmentalists and physicians.
For instance, Dr Moitry Islam has been a volunteer at Bhumijo since the beginning. She is a specialist in nephrology at DMCH and contributes by researching the effects of dehydration and delaying urination that most women will opt to do because of the unhealthy public sanitary conditions. "I also visit the toilets from time to time to monitor its maintenance as well as to look after the health of the attending staff there," she adds.
Farhana advises everyone to be conscious users of these facilities. "We are all responsible in maintaining these toilets as well. The people who help keep these toilets clean and hygienic are doing a very important job and deserve all our respect and cooperation," she concludes.