Toilet talk

  • The Valley’s public toilets are in woeful sanitary conditions

Feb 1, 2019-

Urban parks, efficient public transport, and perhaps even easy access to clean, well-functioning public toilets move a city up the livability ladder. While our conversations about cities and urban design usually feature the need for free spaces and more public transportation or pedestrian friendly roads, one important component is often overlooked: the toilets. The Kathmandu Valley has an acute shortage of toilets. Or rather, well-functioning toilets. Taking cognisance of this, Kathmandu Metropolitan City had been directed to construct toilets in 41 places across the Valley. But even after two years since the idea germinated, the project has not been able to take shape.

While the initiative of constructing new toilets is always welcome, first, the existing ones must be maintained. Most of the existing public toilets are in a sorry state—there is no water supply, the toilet seats are broken, the faucets run dry and a strong stench pervades the public toilets and surrounding areas. In short, they are in woeful sanitary conditions. The local representatives should show urgency in improving the situation. Unfortunately, they have not until now. Their reasoning for the delay—difficulties in determining the locations for the promised toilets—is wholly inadequate.  

There are public toilets in many places in Kathmandu and Lalitpur. But the number still looks insufficient. According to WaterAid’s report entitled World’s Toilet 2017, there is only one public toilet per every 46,000 people in the Kathmandu Valley—where more than 4.5 million people are estimated to live. We would rather hold our bladder for a few hours than go to public latrines simply because they are repulsive, unmanaged and downright foul. Therefore, mismanagement compounded by an inadequate number of public toilets has become a major issue for the Valley denizens. The issue is even more significant for public service givers such as transport workers and traffic police officers.

Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s lack of proactiveness on the construction process reflects another pressing concern for our public infrastructure: Newly elected mayors often take up their positions with grand promises that are almost always never met. Every time the leadership changes, the same promises carry over to the new administration in newly packaged forms. For example, despite not following through on the plan to construct toilets in 41 places across the Valley, the new city leadership is promising the construction of ‘smart toilets’. The lack of a clear transition strategy when new mayors take up their posts has plagued progress in basic city infrastructure. Rather than letting electoral strategy guide mayoral commitments, the leadership at Kathmandu Metropolitan City should focus on long-term, sustainable, and above all, feasible goals. Far-fetched targets will only bode well in the short term. The public has caught on to all this ‘toilet talk’.

As a result of this prevailing lack of follow-through, Kathmandu has lagged far behind in efforts to meet the country’s required sanitation targets. Though a total of 38 districts in the country have been declared Open Defecation Free zones, Kathmandu has struggled to join the list. The city’s failure to reach national targets has contributed to several missed deadlines, including the country’s aim to meet its 2017 goal of ensuring 100 percent toilet coverage. The issue has not received the priority it deserves. Rather than sticking to its habitual tendencies, Kathmandu Metropolitan City must start focusing on the existing infrastructure instead of relaying new (and often unachievable) promises.

Published: 01-02-2019 07:58

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