Opinion | The nightmare of unclean loos

Devendra Gautam

Devendra Gautam

Opinion | The nightmare of unclean loos

Let yours truly put his nightmare in brief: Shabby public toilets located in a dark underbelly of a decaying city | Photo: NGO Forum

A bad dream is not a good way to start a write-up. 

But it can’t be that bad (or can it?), what with the old Delta and new Omicron crises, recurring hikes in the prices of oil and natural gas and subsequent rise in the cost of living affecting our dear lives in varying degrees depending on our respective economic statuses. 

Without mincing words, let yours truly put his nightmare in brief: Shabby public toilets located in a dark underbelly of a decaying city. 

Well, that is what yours truly sees in his dreams once in a while. Where is that city located? Is it the construct of his mind? Yours truly has no idea. Perhaps the nightmare is the result of his recent involvement in some research on the condition of public toilets in the Kathmandu valley or his brief association with the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector as a small-time consultant in the world of larger-than-life officials/subject experts/specialists/urban planners having unparalleled expertise. Surprisingly enough, our taps have been running dry and public toilets stinking despite huge contributions from these people of high repute and expertise.  

On second thoughts, why blame our crème de la crème alone for all this mess and regard ourselves as holier than thou? We too have some role to play in this, no? 

Can those bad dreams be a call to action from high above? Well, that’s overestimating individual capabilities, though it’s perfect for ego soothing.

While yours truly cannot divine the meaning of those horrific dreams, allow him to share his first-hand experiences and thoughts about the problem with responsible officials, which will surely not make their day!  

Public toilet data

My experience of using (or almost using) public toilets in our cities is not much different to that of hundreds of thousands of other people, who have faced similar predicaments and will continue to do so, at least in the foreseeable future, given that magic does not happen in our ordinary lives where the more things change, the more they remain the same. General elections are around the bend, but it will be far-fetched to hope that WASH will be the top agenda of our political parties, who are likely to promise the moon again instead of pledging to bring about small changes in our lives unless and until we make them do it.   

Suffice it to say: Most of these toilets stink to high heaven. Water is hardly available in these toilets and brave sanitary staff stationed there are without personal protective equipment (PPE). On more than one occasion, yours truly had no option but to return without going to the loo for obvious reasons. 

Many government offices use members of the public as second-grade citizens in the matters of the loo. At such offices, the toilets meant for the ‘commoners’ are generally unclean, whereas those meant for their employees are kept clean and locked to prevent the public from (mis-) using them. This level of disrespect for the taxpayer is exceptional and simply unforgivable. 

So much so, the toilets at such infection-prone areas like hospitals are far from clean, generally. Granted that they almost always remain crowded and keeping them clean at all times is a challenging job. But imagine what will happen if hospitals themselves turn into disease/infection hotspots? 

With those parts of our public lives that should be the cleanest at their filthiest, what would the status of public health be, is anyone’s guess. The pandemic should have woken us, including those with the means, ways and authority at their disposal, up to the threat that these toilets pose, but hasn't.      

Would a nightmare like the one yours truly had wake up our authorities from deep slumber and press them to make sure that our public toilets remain clean? If it would, I wish them all some compelling nightmares.