Flying toilets of Bangladesh
Jasmine Atieno @sparkleMine
In October 2017, when the rest of Kenya was headed for the repeat presidential election, residents of Bangladesh estate in Mombasa woke up to polling stations smeared with human feaces. People had to leave the scenes.
How and where anyone would find that much human waste to use as a weapon was not a mystery here.
Bangladesh is no stranger to smeared feaces and open and flying toilets.
Community members say open and flying toilets in the area have become a culture for two reasons: poverty of residents and ignorance of landlords.
Patience Zighani, youth leader at Young Urban Women in Bangladesh, says lack of enough toilets in the area has been a major issue. It has also weighed a lot on health of the girls and women in the area.
“Here a landlord has a rental block with 12 single-roomed houses where big families live— sometimes more than five people.
And all of them have to share one toilet. It is really a challenge, especially with the kids, and parents make them use paper bags, which they throw away later.
Sometimes, the toilets are far from the houses, and people are afraid to use them at night,” she says.
She adds, “The cost of this poor sanitationand poverty has been weighty on the girls and women who constantly suffer urinary tract infections. Most people here also don’t know the difference between UTIs and STIs.
Consequently, when girls get an infection, they shy away from seeking treatment or speaking to their parents until the situation goes overboard.
Even young mothers, most of them will rush for over the counter drugs instead of seeking treatment for the infection, which then become recurrent.”
James Otieno, who was a resident of Bangladesh for over 10 years before he was elected as the village elder, says it has been hard for him to change this culture of open defeacation.
He also complains of inadequate support from the government towards his efforts to eradicate this situation.
“In this area, you will find even four plots, all depending on one toilet. It is really hard to wait before it is your turn, so they poop in bags and throw.
There are also environmental factors contributing to this: the land around the area is weak, so it is hard to keep digging new pit latrines once a toilet is full.
Some prefer flushing toilets, but there is also no water. In other cases, landlords have very fixed spaces, and once one latrine is full, they have no other space to put up a new one.
This in turn has made residents prone to cholera and typhoid outbreaks,” says the leader.
As much as he has made efforts to reports landlords not adhering to the Ministry of Health rules to the relevant offices, not much backup comes his way and he ends up looking like the enemy of the people.
“I don’t have enough support as a leader of the area. For instance, I will take the relevant steps to report a landlord who refuses to construct a toilet for his tenants, but when he is summoned by the authorities, they give him permission to take his time.
So then I just look like I am causing unnecessary problems to them. This is wrong.
They need to treat it with the urgency it deserves. We are the eyes of the government, but they don’t take us seriously,” he complains.
As much as community members have tried to bring companies in the area to help construct more toilets, the efforts have not borne any fruits.
This has left Bangladesh at the mercy of non-governmental organisations, which have sponsored some toilet projects.
While Covid-19 sent the whole world into hiding behind closed doors in fear of contacting the deadly virus, residents of Bangladesh, who had been dealing with poor sanitation for years, watched as the horror unfolded in their eyes.
“The way the houses are built here is already a major problem. The houses are poorly positioned, the residents only use pit latrines.
When one is full, emptying it is also another huge cost-well over Sh40,000 for the landlords.
As Shining Hope for Communities, we identified areas where we can put up latrines.
So far we have built two latrines, which users have to pay Sh10. However, some families cannot afford that.
If someone has six children, paying all that money for a latrine is a challenge.
So we are trying to see if we can do more,” said the project Co-coordinator, ShofCo, Joseph Oluoch.
The organisation stepped in to aid the community with hand washing soaps and sanitisers during the pandemic period.
They have about 80 hand washing stations so far all over the area, to ensure people can keep their hands clean without worrying about water.
The water is supplied by three trucks supplying about 60,000litres of water daily (three trips each), sensitise the community on importance of maintaining hygienic measures through training community members and workers to do the same.
At the same time, the organisation supplies food worth Sh3,000 daily to the community members.