The objective of our work on public sanitation is to improve access to improved public toilets so mapping the location of existing toilets is only the first step; we have to create a system that will both inform users of the location and status of public toilets, as well as persuade the government to maintain toilets to ensure they are usable. To find a way to assess Chennai’s public toilets, we did some research on mapping and evaluation systems around the world.
Finding a clean toilet can be difficult anywhere in the world and there are several websites and smart phone applications to find one. Apart from the usual applications that simply state the features of public toilets, I came across some websites that I thought were original. One of them was http://www.sitorsquat.com created by the toilet-paper manufacturer “charmin’”. The company has created an interactive map of toilets that crowd sources information. Users can also add their comment and differentiate between toilets based on a “sit or squat” criterion.
The Canadian website Powder room is also very inspiring. The site was created by an NGO in collaboration with health professionals in order to support people with an overactive bladder (OAB). The powder room site maps toilets and awards the best with the “Powderroom seal of approval”. Their 5 stars rating system is based on criteria like accessibility, cleanliness, infrastructure, waiting, rental and decorations. Internet users are encouraged to participate in the web site and the favorite toilet gets a special “fan favorite” mention.
While these websites focus on the accessibility of public toilets, others are specifically designed to encourage better maintenance of toilets. The British Association Toilets for example, distributes different awards under a project called “Loo of the Year“. Several awards are given out every year based on criteria such as signage and communication, decoration, maintenance, cleanliness, hygiene, air quality and safety accessories. The toilets are nominated by the public and judged by a jury, and the rules and winners on their website.
Other websites create “walls of shame” for the worst toilets or “walls of fame” for the best ones.
All of these ideas are interesting and relevant for the rating system we want to create in Chennai. We have to find our own rating criteria, often quite different from those used around the world, but that which is suitable to the local context. In Chennai – and perhaps in India in general – the problem is not whether the toilet requires the user to “sit or squat” or whether it has toilet paper. Our main concerns are the factors that allow or prevent a toilet from being used. We noticed that some toilets were unused because they were not clean or lacked privacy and security, especially for women. If toilets had better infrastructure and were better maintained, this would be a first step to encourage their use. Thus, we decided to make an initial assessment of the toilet using the following criteria. These criteria determine whether a toilet is usable or not:
- 1. Blockages in the toilets which would prevent their use
- 2. The presence of doors especially for privacy for women
- 3. The presence of lights which has important implications for security
- 4. The availability of water
The toilet map will be useful for users to locate toilets and will also assist the government identify the problematic toilets. Toilets that are usable and also have other good features like locks on doors, mugs and buckets, and no foul smell will be highlighted on our map. A similar initiative has already made a significant difference in a Mumbai. We also intend to update these ratings by developing an interactive interface online and also by collecting complaints about toilets through SMSs.
If you have some ideas or comments on this initiative, don’t hesitate to write me!
Written by Judith Sebo, volunteer, Transparent Chennai