Like many other women in her slum, 25 year-old Salma Akhter used to start her day with the same battle – standing in a long queue, waiting to go to the toilet or get access to clean water. Salma lives in a slum area in Maniknagar Porabosti, Dhaka in Bangladesh. She is a housewife and her husband works as a bus driver. They have a nine month-old daughter and an 11 year-old son.
With the overcrowded population in Porabasti, there is a severe lack of toilets. The facilities they used to have were constructed around 10 years ago, with no operation or maintenance plan. Dirty and poorly maintained, they failed to meet even the basic standards of hygiene. The smell was overwhelming, not to mention the broken lock and dimly lit surroundings.
With no decent, hygienic facilities, children are also put at risk. Salma had no choice but to wash her daughter’s clothes there too. This felt unsafe due to the slippery, unclean surface. And with the long queues to gain access to clean water, Salma often had to resort to bathe herself and her children in public, with many passers-by. She feared the winter when the children are more at risk of cold.
The situation has recently changed for Salma and others where she lives. A public toilet in Maniknagar was built by WaterAid, in association with the Dhaka South City Corporation and with funding from H&M Foundation. These facilities help to reach people on the move, rickshaw pullers and tea-stall visitors, as well as for the slum dwellers.
Salma had never experienced a clean toilet or one that is so spacious and has separate areas for male and female. “I used to be a house help before the birth of my daughter. I thought clean water and a hygienic toilet was meant for rich people. But, when the new toilet opened I felt very privileged. When I drop my son at school, I use the public toilet. I also drink filtered water. The toilet has a soothing fragrance and hand wash can be used to keep us and our children clean and hygienic.”
This five-year project, supported by the H&M Foundation, has provided dignity and safety for millions of people through 31 renovated or new public toilet services across Bangladesh. Already the toilets have been used over 8 million times!
What’s more, the popularity and attention of these new toilets has also inspired the government in Bangladesh to continue building more. The Dhaka North and South City Corporations (two local government bodies for the city) have publicly declared their support for this initiative and now want to continue bringing better sanitation services to the people of Dhaka. They have committed to building another 145 toilets across the city.