Mar(k): Travel, Hiking, and "Doing Good"

musings on our life of travel and volunteering

Public Toilets: A Wee Comparison

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In our travels, one of the interesting indicators of a country’s relative wealth seems to be the availability of public toilets.  The wealthier the country, the easier it is to relieve oneself when in public.  Once a suitable place has been located, one can then start to make additional comparisons which include such things as availability of running water (or not), ability to sit down (or squat), electricity (or not), and so on. 

When in Ghana, we certainly noticed that the availability of public facilities was very limited.  In the main area of Tamale, public facilities were virtually non-existent (this in a town of over 350,000 people).  Certain restaurants may have had facilities, but even then the quality of such was questionable at best.   I recall even at the hospital (Kabsab – a private hospital), when asked to provide a urine specimen, I was sent out to the urinal (separate for males and females) and had to do what I had to do there.   No running water, no hand towels, nothing.

Things were the same where we worked.  There was a shared male/female urinal facility that many of the nearby offices shared.  There were no doors, so Mark used to have to stand guard outside, while I went in (as most workers are male, and would cruise in to either urinal without hesitation).  The set up was essentially a trough – slightly sloping so that the liquid would run into the exit hole.  Which was fine, unless leaves and other debris prevented this from happening.  Not a pleasant sight or smell when the temperatures would be in the mid 40’s!

However, on a visit to a community within a few hours of Tamale, I did need to use the loo, and I was most impressed with its comparative luxury!  Here it is here.  A nice cylindrical design, all very new and shiny!

It should be noted, of course – that all of these options are suitable for weeing only – no facilities available for #2!!!   The standard options available to us were to either take a shared taxi home if the need arose (preferred and used option), or to do what many locals are forced to do – and “free range”… meaning to go into some nearby bush and find a spot that has not already been used by others.   Needless to say, such areas were not conducive to health!   Illnesses like typhoid and cholera are not surprisingly common in such circumstances. 

All  joking aside, globally an estimated 1.1 billion people defecate in the open, and about 1.5 million children die every year because they simply don’t have access to safe hygiene, sanitation and water.   A World Health Organisation (WHO) report confirmed what we had experienced.  2.6 BILLION people worldwide are without improved sanitation (i.e nearly 40% of the population).  Ghana is one of these countries. 

Recently we were in Egypt, and we both commented on how many more public facilities were around.  This certainly seemed reasonable, as the wealth in Egypt was palpably higher than in Ghana.  Of course, the large number of tourists also provide a strong demand for such facilities;  many of which are used by visitors, but never benefit the local people.

And then we get to Perth….  Australia is sometimes called the Lucky Country, and we were absolutely blown away by the public loos that exist at a public library that we sometimes frequent.  Let me give you a brief overview of what this palatial loo is all about.  The lights are controlled by motion sensors, so the energy-efficient lighting comes on when you enter the area, and automatically turn themselves off after a suitable time of no movement within.  Each loo has a sink above the toilet itself.  When you flush, recycled water comes out of the sink, so that you can wash your hands immediately.   Of course, paper towels are provided for drying. 

All of the water in this facility is recycled grey water.  So the water cycles through the system, gets appropriately treated, and then is used to water the beautiful gardens outside.  Solid waste is also treated and used as fertiliser. 

We were blown away with the cleanliness, environmental friendliness, and appropriateness of the whole system!  Well done to Peppermint Grove Library for working so hard to achieve a sustainable solution for a public facility.  It was a far cry from what we lived with in Ghana, that’s for sure!

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Written by Mar(k)

March 27, 2011 at 8:19 am

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