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sustinable communities

Shared toilets as the path to health and dignity

Guangzhe CHEN's picture

This post is co-authored with Tim Wainwright, Chief Executive, WaterAid and Neil Jeffery, Chief Executive Officer, Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor and was originally published on the Financial Times’ BeyondBrics Blog.  

An alley in Mollar Bosti, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Where space and funding do not permit household toilets, safe, well-managed community latrines can provide a healthier alternative to makeshift, unhygienic toilets.
© Rasel Chowdhury/WaterAid

Mollar Bosti is a crowded slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh, home to 10,000 people: garment workers, rickshaw drivers, and small traders, all living side-by-side in tiny rooms sandwiched along narrow passageways.

With the land subject to monsoon flooding, and no municipal services to speak of, the people of Mollar Basti have been struggling with a very real problem: what to do with an enormous and growing amount of human faeces.

Traditionally, their ‘hanging latrines’ consisted of bamboo and corrugated metal structures suspended on poles above the ground, allowing waste to fall straight down into a soup of mud and trash below. Residents tell stories of rooms flooded with smelly muck during monsoons; outbreaks of diarrhoea and fever would quickly follow.

But conditions have improved for much of the slum. With help of a local NGO, the residents negotiated permission for improvement from a private landowner, and mapped out areas of need. Today, they proudly show visitors their pristine, well-lit community latrines and water points. They report fewer problems with flooding and disease.