Shortage of hygienic public toilets plagues Lahore

Poor cleaning, hygiene arrangements have left the few lavatories available in the city in a nauseating state

Rizwan Asif May 16, 2024


During the initial wave of development in the subcontinent, where living conditions were more or less austere, the availability of lavatories was a paramount hallmark of urban life, distinguishing it from the rural setting where sanitary arrangements were still nowhere near in sight. Ironically, in today’s Pakistan, where despite metropolitan cities expanding into complex industrial and commercial zones, the rudimentary marker of development is either entirely missing or in an abysmal state.

Take the case of Lahore, the second largest city in the country, which despite being home to a population of over 17.5 million people, has only about 310 public toilets available for men and women across parks and markets located in areas like the Mall Road, Hall Road, Anarkali, Azam Cloth Market and Shah Alam Market. To make matters worse, the few public restrooms that are scattered across the city are unfit for use due to poor sanitation, substandard cleaning, shortage of cleaning essentials and a lack of privacy, which presents a conundrum for locals especially women, who have no safe, hygienic restrooms to turn to when in need.

Bushra Shahid, a woman spotted shopping at the Anarkali Bazaar with her children, gave a mere glimpse into the state of public lavatories located at popular shopping destinations in the city. “There are no functional public toilets at the bazaar since the few that are available are either locked or are blocked by vendors, who have set up their carts in front of the toilet site. Where should women and children go in such a case,” questioned Bushra.

While Bushra only gave an overview of the unavailability of public toilets, women’s struggles often do not end once they have spotted an empty cubicle since a lack of privacy deters them from using the facility. Allegedly, the locks of most of the toilet are broken while the staff frequently send men to the units reserved for women, which apart from compromising the privacy of women also allows obscene, misogynistic graffiti to end up on the walls of the toilets. Moreover, the absence of female staff in public toilets only adds to the discomfort of the women using the public lavatories.
Mubasher Alam, a local spotted outside a toilet site located at the Regal Chowk, revealed that he had walked all the way from one corner of Hall Road to use the toilet because there were no washrooms available at that place.

“The toilets have a foul odour while the commodes are broken. The lavatories are not disinfected with chemical cleaners and toilet papers are also unavailable. Sometimes, hand soaps are also missing while air fresheners are nowhere to be seen. Moreover, the locks and hinges of toilet doors are often broken or damaged and a brick is placed to close the door,” informed Alam, who paid double the fee fixed by the government for using the facility.

Dr Habibur Rehman, a medical expert highlighted the fact that the provision of basic sanitation facilities was a fundamental human right. “The World Health Organization continues to emphasize the importance of ensuring sanitation arrangements for improving health and hygiene standards. The unhygienic conditions of public toilets lead to many diseases, including eye infections and rashes,” warned Dr Rehman.

According to details obtained by the Express, Lahore direly needs around 1800 new toilets since the 13 fully government owned sites with 8 to 10 units per site and 19 private owned sites with 175 toilets units per site are insufficient for accommodating the population of the provincial capital.
Talking to the Express Tribune, an official from the Lahore Metropolitan Corporation said, “At present new public toilets are being constructed at various points in the city. The government has fixed the fee for using the toilet at Rs10 and action is taken on complaints of overcharging.”


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