Last Monday, Last Monday, the sidewalk was discovered shut off by a rope with a some shoes swinging from it on the corner of a building in Dhanmondi, Dhaka. A young guy looks around cautiously. He faced the wall, unzipped and finished urinating on the wall. Later he was questioned why he had done that. “I did not want to but the pressure was high. I could not resist myself,” he said while being embarrassed and refused to divulge his identity. Like him, many men in Dhaka urinates in public and pollutes the streets and walls of the city. The act of public urination relates to self-hygiene, social disturbance, environmental pollution, and over-all dignity of people. This is high time government implores efficient and permanent solution to this public nuisance.
Extent of the issue
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), illnesses such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio are spread by poor sanitation (WHO, 2022). In addition to pre-existing lack of basic life services, Dhaka is plagued by a lack of safe water, sewage treatment, and safe solid waste disposal, which paints a picture of an unsanitary metropolitan center that poses a public health danger to its millions of people. Situation like this coupled with long practice of open defecation and urination, has normalized the behavior within the society. Although over the period of time, Bangladesh has succeeded to become a defecation free country (according to World Bank 2020 report) , cities specially the capital city still suffers from public urination that leads to social and environmental challenges among other issues.
Public urination leads to unhealthy environment for all. Insanitary public urination can be reason of intestinal worms, spread of antimicrobial resistance etc. issues. It’s a public health issue because people walk on soiled and stinky sidewalks from mature people peeing on them, then track that filth into their homes and onto their families.
Public urination creates the area around it inhabitable. The waste gets mixed with the environment without any processing. Research by Aberg and others proves that urination can carry harmful toxins from body and mixing with environment can cause imbalance or hazard in the ecosystem.
Dhaka Tribune published that Bangladesh govt. has imposed law against public urination. According to section 92 of the local government (city corporation) act 2009, public urination is an offense and can be fined BDT 5,000 as per the law.
The reasons behind the continuation of public urination have been well explored by social science researchers and that puts our focus to the normalization of the act itself. According to researcher Shovon, the act of normalization happens through the following process –
SBCC – a new way forward?
Social Behavioral Change Communication popularly known as SBCC Changes has been used to try to modify a population’s behavior by influencing its education, behaviours, and social conventions or cultural practices by using a single or a number of communication approaches.. Public urination is not only a problem for Bangladesh, people from different parts of the world had been suffering from it.
Many countries among them has explored the use of SBCC in reducing, if not eliminating the problem completely.
How can Bangladesh fight it?
According to WaterAid, Bangladesh is now a ODF (Open Defecation Free) country ( 34% in 1990 to 0% in 2017). It was possible with major involvement from multiple fronts like political intent, activities by development partners and active participation of local government organizations and communities. But public urination continued. In 2014 city authorities partnered with Water Aid to setup first “Good Public Toilet” (GPT) that contained sink, mirror, waste bin etc. necessary items. 53 GPTs were constructed by 2019 and by 2021 63 modern public toilets were made.
Undoubtedly, many number of public toilets needs to increase exponentially, and these initiatives show that local and international bodies are collaborating to resolve the key issues of infrastructure. But implementation of SBCC is also required to change the mindset of people so that provided option, they wouldn’t urinate in public.
In 2015, an innovative approach, a campaign called “Language matters”, was initiated to raise awareness specifically against the public urination practice.
Recently, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Bangladesh (MHFW) in association with Dhaka City Corporations has partnered up with WaterAid, Bangladesh to apply a multifaceted SBCC approach. Learning from previous actions and studying social science research and practices, they plan to implement a pilot communication campaign in Dhaka city. This communication campaign aims to raise awareness against public urination among the Dhaka city dwellers. This will introduce mirrors on the walls in different parts of Dhaka city where public urination happens frequently. The intention is to grab attention of the city-dwellers specially the personnel engaging in open urination to rethink about their actions before they commit. In addition, the awareness campaign has a digital component to engage people in social media as well. Shuddhi foundation, a renowned non-profit organization with experience in SBCC campaigns will implement the campaign. They call it project “Shomman Shamlaan” / প্রজেক্ট“সম্মানসামলান”.
“Individual awareness is necessary to stop urination in public places.”Says Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) Executive Magistrate Kabir Mahmood who considers public urination as a “social disease”
Halida Hanum, Director of Shuddhi Foundation and ex-dean of John Hopkins University School of Medicine, believes that with proper support from the local and international partners, this project will reach the minds of people and motivate them to change their unhealthy sanitation practices. She also says that once the pilot project is successful in Dhaka, the whole country can be part of the large scale project and be ahead in fulfilling more of our Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 3 & 6).
With one of the highest population densities in the world, Bangladesh suffers from numerous natural, social, medical, financial problems among others. Changing mindset about mere public urination won’t resolve all of our issues, but if successful this can definitely lead the people to a better and brighter society for all. It won’t be overstatement to say about the project that “One small step for Dhakaites, one giant leap for the nation.”
[AUTHORS NOTE / DISCLAIMER : This blog post is a part of an academic assignment ONLY and NOT to be considered for academic or journalistic reference. It contains demo information that are relevant for the assignment only and may not reflect the “truth”. ]