Toilet facilities — a luxury for most Pakistanis

Published: August 19, 2012

The writer is a development consultant and a PhD student at the University of Melbourne syed.ali@tribune.com.pk

Human development is an increasingly nuanced concept, securing which requires tackling not only economic but a range of socio-political challenges. Availability of sanitation services, including sewage systems and toilet facilities, however, are the most rudimentary of development requirements, yet they remain unavailable to a significant proportion of our populace.

Pakistan, along with other South Asian nations, is facing the daunting challenge of providing toilets to millions of people who are still practising open defecation. Pakistan, however, has the dubious distinction of having the worst sanitation conditions within the regional grouping.

WashMedia-South Asia — a representative group of journalists from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, focusing on water, sanitation and hygiene issues — has recently highlighted that approximately a fourth of the Pakistani population still defacates in the open.

The implications of this disconcerting phenomenon are varied. From an economic perspective, the lack of adequate sanitation is estimated to cause a loss of over Rs340 billion, nearly four per cent of Pakistan’s GDP. This financial implication is calculated on the basis of costs associated with water-borne related death and diseases as well as losses in education, productivity and time due to lack of access to adequate sanitation.

While modern toilets are plentiful across affluent urban areas, basic latrine facilities remain scant in rural and unregulated urban slums. Most poor people are thus forced to make use of bushes, river banks, or agricultural fields. With increasingly congested villages and slum areas in towns and peri-urban areas around the country, women and girls walk long distances to find suitable places to relieve themselves.

Intestinal and reproductive health complications have been associated with the fact that women often delay doing so until dark. The need for privacy also brings with it a risk of sexual assault.

Lack of adequate sanitation also spells bad news for eradicating polio in the country, given that this debilitating disease spreads primarily through the fecal-oral route. It is not surprising to note an evident resurgence of the virus in the slums in Quetta and Karachi.

Moreover, open defecation on such a vast scale is polluting water used for drinking and irrigation purposes and agricultural produce consumed by people across the country. Despite multilateral commitments to address the situation, successive governments have not taken this issue seriously. Pakistan is thus listed amongst countries most off-track to achieve sanitation’ related targets under the UN’s Millennium Development Goals for 2015.

Our politicians must honour their pledges and take concrete steps by ensuring that more funds are made available for improving the sanitation situation. Sanitation must also become a priority policy issue at all administrative tiers. The current state of apathy is evident from the fact that drinking water supply lines and open sewage drains laying side by side remains commonplace, despite the obvious health hazards posed by such blunders.

Many NGOs at the behest of donor agencies like the World Bank are using cost-sharing approaches to sanitation, which essentially shift the burden of state responsibilities onto already marginalised people. It is actually the responsibility of the public sector to ensure that adequate sewage systems are put in at the community level. Citizens themselves should only be focusing on investing in hygienic latrines within their households, which are then linked to a larger sewage system.

Unfortunately, this rather basic aspiration of adequate sanitation services seems not much more than wishful thinking given the way things work in countries like ours. Meanwhile, poor people can at least be prompted to desist from open defecation and instead build basic pit latrines, which cost very little money, and need not be linked to a sewage system either.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2012.

Reader Comments (42)

  • Raw is War
    Aug 19, 2012 - 9:17PM

    sorry state.

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  • Nand
    Aug 19, 2012 - 9:43PM

    This article is like Muntadher al-Zaidi’s action but on Pakistanis.

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  • C. Nandkishore
    Aug 19, 2012 - 9:48PM

    How did the figure of 25% come. You can’t take a ordinary census in Pakistan, forget sanitation. This figure is propped up just to be less than India. On the other hand Pakistan says there is no water for its people.

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  • notanIndiantroll
    Aug 19, 2012 - 9:59PM

    India has 650 million people who dont have access to a toilet. Nearly 10 percent of Humanity. :-)

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  • James
    Aug 19, 2012 - 10:01PM

    An eyeopener article for Pakistanis who always taunt India for its people defecating in open spaces. “People who lives in glass house should not throw stones on others.”

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  • sabi
    Aug 19, 2012 - 10:34PM

    Author,
    “Moreover, open defecation on such a vast scale is polluting water used for drinking and irrigation purposes and agricultural produce consumed by people across the country.”
    Human waste.feces is one of the best natural fertilizers that’s why farmers incourage people, defecation in their field and second it in no way leave any bad effects on agricultural produce.
    Coming on to toilet facilities in pakistan the situation has considerably improved in last thirty years specialy in rural areas.With more and more people using modern flush system.Fourth of population without toilets is highly exagerating and i totaly dissagree with it.
    Regards

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  • Saleem
    Aug 19, 2012 - 10:39PM

    We don’t mind defecating in the open or the filth. We have the atom bomb and F-16s!!

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  • Sam
    Aug 19, 2012 - 11:00PM

    If I read correctly India tops regional open toilets. Quote bbc etc. India has more mobile phones than toilets. Even in big cities houses don’t have toilets. Pakistan is far below that
    .

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  • Aug 20, 2012 - 12:14AM

    So they find India’s 50 crore populace without toilets, etribune wanting to put Pakistan on the same level so that its ‘master’ dont feel ashamed by Pakistanis uploads this piece online.. Great work! Compared to what India lacks, Pakistan is too different, here some do, nd only some do in bushes because they dont care, not because they dont have the money, that too in vilages.. In India everywhere they defecate, find a signal, subway, a street, pooing everywhere.. filth everywhere.. and all the South Asian media associations should be call Anti Pakistan – Indian media associations.. Another piece of Yellow journalism!

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  • gp65
    Aug 20, 2012 - 12:35AM

    Yes. This is issue is a big problem in both India and Pakistan. In fact even more so in India and Pakistan. But because this problem has been recognised at the highest level in India, the for last few years, there are metrics collected – including during census, there are articles outliing the shame of the situation with the intention of modifying behaviour and allocating more government resources to the issue.

    Pakistanis quote these very metrics and articles and gloat. The point is both our nation share common problems – lack of sanitation, deep and widespread poverty, malnutition, inaqequate electricity etc. Both countries are poorly off in these areas. One worse off than the other in oner area and viceversa. If the Pakistani establishment gave up the idea of using its non-state actors against India, both countries could direct more resources to solving social problems.

    I upload the author for talking about this issue in Pakistan. Problem recognition is the first and very important step to solving a problem.

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  • antanu g
    Aug 20, 2012 - 12:56AM

    @Sohail:
    in india over 40% people dont have sccess to toilets but it is never highlighted in national media.Recommend

  • antanu g
    Aug 20, 2012 - 12:57AM

    but again you can not justify for pakistanis dont have access to toilets since india also has tge same problemRecommend

  • True Muslim Paki
    Aug 20, 2012 - 1:23AM

    Defacating in the open has its own advantages. Natural manure & enjoying the nature. A few 100 years ago even the kings & queens were doing this important daily routine in the open. The toilets were created by westerners because they never had the luxury of open air relieving because of adverse climatic conditions (severe winter). They also couldn’t use water to wash because water would turn ice cold within minutes. So they use paper which is unhealthy because of hygiene which can bacterial & fungal infections.

    We don’t have to follow their ways & continue. No one thinks of reasons & just follows western ways.

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  • Naumann Malik
    Aug 20, 2012 - 1:56AM

    I am surprised at some of the comments made by Indians & Idiots here. France before it’s revolution, was so filthy, it had a bubonic plague. India had a plague spread by rats. Pakistan fortunately has never had such a problem. Yet the comments by Indians & Idiots alike are laughable.

    Yes there are shortcomings & mistakes as pointed by the author, but we haven’t given up hope or the resolve. We are highlighting this issue to make people aware & clean our act.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bubonic_plague

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1994plaguein_India

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  • Saad BP
    Aug 20, 2012 - 2:09AM

    What a senseless piece, when the nation is plagued is plagued with terrorism and corruption, you sir bring up the issue of less toilet facilities, and ET publishes it!! This will make a funny story one day. The headline itself is a joke stating ‘most’ Pakistanis don’t have access to proper toilets and the article suggests that it’s 1/4th. According to all english language dictionaries out there. <25% does not mean a majority. I am seriously loosing interest in ET. A crappy piece and an even crappier publishing policy. And bravo to the mindless jerks mourning over this piece and commenting likewise. You should spend more time in the real world and meet some real people.

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  • Gratgy
    Aug 20, 2012 - 5:45AM

    @nauman malik

    1994 is almost 20 years back. Polio in Pakistan is now

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  • Aug 20, 2012 - 8:29AM

    It is one of the best articles written so far on the issues of health and sanitation. The commentators who reiterated it is a natural way and kings and queens used to go in open, then therewas no population explosion. How people can ridcule such a serious issue affecting public health? Think seriously readers, andbe health conscious. This is an eye opener otherwise destruction……your choice.

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  • Arijit Sharma
    Aug 20, 2012 - 10:08AM

    I am totally shocked !! I was under the impression that everybody in Pakistan has toilets and piped drinking water supplied by the municipality.

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  • S.M. Ali
    Aug 20, 2012 - 11:46AM

    The title of the article was edited and mistakenly says ‘toilet facilities – a luxury for most Pakistanis’, it should have instead said most POOR Pakistanis.

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  • Roy
    Aug 20, 2012 - 11:59AM

    I am happy that both in India & Pakistan, people are recognising the basic problem of lack of clean drinking water & sanitation facilities which is nothing short of violation of basic human rights. Paksitanis instead of worrying about the state of muslims in India, Myanmar & every other coutries muslim populations, can start by taking care of its own people first and worry about others later.

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  • Concerned
    Aug 20, 2012 - 12:19PM

    @True Muslim Paki: Still, open air defacation is a public health risk as well as disgusting. I for one prefer the privacy of a bathroom. We are a dirty nation compared to many others, if you’ve travelled around you might have noticed that. Perhaps the article is exaggerated, but it is still valid and deserves to be highlighted.

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  • Great Thinker
    Aug 20, 2012 - 1:00PM

    The problem stares at you in India, and after reading this article, its in Pakistan too.

    @ true Muslim Paki: You are a joker. I suggest that you don’t follow the western ways when you are flying, travelling by Train etc.

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  • Arifq
    Aug 20, 2012 - 1:14PM

    Another example of wasting valuable resources. Imagine if Pakistan and India could recycle all this waste it could solve their energy crises! Eid Greetings to all, please eat green.

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  • Deb
    Aug 20, 2012 - 1:26PM

    Pakistan has a higher per capita toilet than India.
    Pakistan is way ahead of india in the matters of toilet.

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  • Aug 20, 2012 - 1:34PM

    I live in DHA Karachi and water is a luxury for me! No water, no toilets my friend.

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  • dpd
    Aug 20, 2012 - 2:09PM

    Both India and Pakistan are NUCLEAR nations. Throwing money where it is not needed. Will remain third world until they both increase their middle class population.

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  • vasan
    Aug 20, 2012 - 4:47PM

    Two articles come to my mind.
    Karachis sewers are full of polio virus because the sewerage is full of human excretial on which polio virus thrives. This sewerage is rated as the worst in the world for such contamination
    Pakistan produces much more waste than even Delhi which I thought was the worst as per recent survey.Recommend

  • antanu g - Illegal immigrant
    Aug 20, 2012 - 5:24PM

    Please don’t take my comments seriously..

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  • Cautious
    Aug 20, 2012 - 7:57PM

    Lack of clean water and proper sewers/sanitation are hallmarks of both India and Pakistan and remind the rest of the World that your both 3′rd World countries with nukes.

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  • antanu g
    Aug 20, 2012 - 8:20PM

    @Arijit Sharma:
    how could u think that? entire subcontinent does not have adequate sanitation facility. Things are much worse in india where one third of the people dont have access to toilrts.Recommend

  • Aug 20, 2012 - 8:27PM

    @Raza Khan:
    “I live in DHA Karachi and water is a luxury for me! No water, no toilets my friend.”
    .
    My friend, you have cut down on luxuries I presume but for how long have you been holding back?

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  • Arijit Sharma
    Aug 20, 2012 - 11:16PM

    @antanu g: ” …. how could u think that? entire subcontinent does not have adequate sanitation facility. … “

    I was indulging in sarcasm. The point I was trying to make is that Pakistanis like to point out that Indians defecate in public, while they themselves do the same.

    ” …. Things are much worse in india where one third of the people dont have access to toilrts … “

    Of course. Who is denying this ?

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  • Raja Islam
    Aug 21, 2012 - 12:35AM

    Get rid of the population and you will get rid of the problem.

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  • Human
    Aug 21, 2012 - 2:22AM

    AAAAWWWWWW………..now they cant even taunt Indians…tch tch …ET…why? Why you always do this to Pakistanis…..that was the only rant they have, and now that is also gone….:D

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  • Super Star
    Aug 21, 2012 - 11:05AM

    two nations competing with each other to prove whose citizens defecate in the open lesser by comparing figures. This is hilarious ! Guys this is a problem we both have. No one upmanship here !

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  • dude108
    Aug 21, 2012 - 12:58PM

    India and pakistan must co-operate on issue, some people are even defecating on India-Pakistan border, making it difficult for people from both countries to cross the border.

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  • G. Din
    Aug 21, 2012 - 5:06PM

    @dude108:
    ” some people are even defecating on India-Pakistan border, making it difficult for people from both countries to cross the border.”
    That is indeed a problem where people cross the border at non-designated points i.e illegally. This is not a problem for Indians who don’t care to use even the designated points. ( They try to avoid Pakistan anyway.) This is definitely a problem for Pakistanis. ” defecating on India-Pakistan border,” helps discourage the illegal border crossings and so ought to be welcomed by India. Hence, not only is there no need for toilets in the proximity of that border but Indians ought to consider it their patriotic duty to go to that area to relieve themselves.

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  • Adnan
    Aug 21, 2012 - 5:32PM

    In the ‘defacting in the open’ stakes, India beats Pakistan hands down!

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  • Aug 22, 2012 - 12:25AM

    @Adnan:
    .
    “In the ‘defacting in the open’ stakes, India beats Pakistan hands down!”

    .
    India shines even in this field.

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  • Vikram
    Aug 22, 2012 - 9:18AM

    I’m an Indian, if I remember right it is India that has more people (both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of population) who defecate in the open. This however, along with several other developmental issues, are a common concern for both countries and both should take immediate steps to remedy the same.

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  • dpd
    Aug 22, 2012 - 12:47PM

    As long as the polititians have clean facilities, there is no need or requirement from both the Indian and Pakistani government to provide clean toilets for its impoverished population. By just spending a SMALL amount of money in all the cities, a small part of the economy will also be revived and it will provide at least some jobs for the poor.

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  • antanu g
    Aug 22, 2012 - 6:35PM

    @Arijit Sharma:
    so its not a matter of sarcasm or ridicule. its a serious matter that while have to compromoise in their dignity entire sub continent is dpending billionns on missiles…space crafts anf arms.we in india aspire to send a mission to mars while the cist to incurred there for could be used to provide a very important facilty to millions of peoplr.Recommend

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