Toilets talk

1_15 Latrines built by the canal in Insein township. Photos: Phoe Wa, Mar Naw/The Myanmar Times

23 Nov 2020 - Source: Myanmar Times - As a squatter living on around 10 square feet of land,Daw Aye and her family had no space to dig a hole for a latrine. Daw Aye lives in Dala township beside the Yangon river where, aside from toilet problems, residents face regular shortages of clean water.

Living close to a creek, her family often have to defecate in the river. Keeping her modesty, she uses her dress to cover herself with the fabric to avoid others from seeing.
"There is no space for the latrine when we first built the house. We live so close to the creek, and the waste flows down into the river anyway. It's not good, even for those who have toilets," Daw Aye said.
Her relatives in Dala township also face a similar ordeal. There is a common latrine for 10 households, as they do not have enough space to build one for each household.
"They often complain when it's time to use the toilet," she said.

As squatters, her family does not have access to water supplied by YCDC. The family source water from a nearby pond. In summer, they have to be extra careful with their water usage. Dala has no underground fresh water either, and with the water supply system very limited, residents mostly rely on earthen rainwater ponds. If the ponds dry up, the residents suffer severe water shortages.
"Four or five years ago we never had as many problems finding water. We don't have much education, but we want a more secure life. Though we have a house, we couldn't even build it properly with a toilet. There are some families who are worse than my family. They live, eat and defecate in one place," she said.

In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly established 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Goal number 6 was"clean water and sanitation for all". The goal has eight targets to be achieved by at least 2030. The 2014 Myanmar Population and Housing Census showed that 74.3 percent of households had facilities that were either a flush or water seal (improved pit latrine) toilet – classified as improved toilet facilities. The remaining households reported having traditional pit latrines, bucket surface latrines or no latrines at all.

Yangon Region reported the highest proportion of households with improved sanitation facilities at 91.1pc, followed by Kayah State at 88.5pc. Rakhine State recorded by far the lowest proportion of households with improved sanitation facilities at 31.8pc, followed by Shan State at 63.8pc. Though the number of functional toilets is high in the city, the statistics don't reveal everything.
"We do not think the census collectors examine everything when the visit households. Though a house owner says that the toilet is in good condition, it's not clear how hygienic it is," said freelance sanitation expert U Tun Myint.
U Tun Myint said health workers and the public have to make efforts to make their toilets hygienic as possible."The number doesn't matter as long as they try to maintain their toilets," he said.
"To help reach the UN's sustainable development goals by 2030 everyone needs to work together. The 2030 aims are not impossible, but we do need to spread awareness of the issue of toilet sanitation," he said.
Water scarcity in some villages and rural areas makes latrine hygiene difficult. Dr Khin Maung Lwin, a retired director from the Ministry of Health, said a healthy and clean toilet should be free from flies, smell and protected from the outside elements. Toilet drainage also needs to be safe, so that waste does not harm the environment.
"In Yangon, some people defecate in drains, which is highly unsanitary. Cholera and typhoid are caused by untreated waste, and are fatal diseases," he said.
Dr Khin Maung Lwin worked on installing toilets across the country,raising awareness about sanitation and public health. Even though people are often aware of the problems, he said that habits are hard to change.

This sentiment is echoed by U Tun Myint.
"Some people do not have enough water to use in their latrine, so they will use the creek thinking the water will wash away their waste without harming the environment. And residents in some squats in the city can't build toilets according to YCDC's standards," U Tun Myint said. Throughout his work as a public health official, U Tun Myint said that people do change their habits when they see how important toilets are for their health.
"If people see toiletsas being important for the whole family's health, they will try to overcome whatever obstacles to build and maintain a good toilet. To get this kind of message across we need the cooperation of people at a grassroots level through local organisations," U Tun Myint said.

"It doesn't matter where you live, what your income or education level is – everybody needs to have access to a decent toilet in their house or compound. It is essential for basic dignity," said WaterAid Myanmar Country Director Mr Shihab Ahamad.
WaterAid Myanmar has been contributing to Myanmar's efforts to meet the SDGs on water and sanitation by continuously working with the relevant government departments.
"Children are still dying from disease because families don't have a safe toilet. Women and girls are suffering hygiene and social problems because they can't afford to build a toilet in their compound," Mr Ahamad said.

WaterAid is working in schools and hospitals to set up hygienic toilets in line with gender and social equality standards. 

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