RANGOON —The state of toilets and sewerage in Burma should be improved both to attract foreign visitors and to improve sanitation, observers said.
Tuesday is designated by the United Nations as World Toilet Day. The day’s slogan this year is “We Can’t Wait,” and the official website says the purpose of the day is “urging changes in both behavior and policy on issues ranging from enhancing water management to ending open-air defection.”
Years of stunted development have left Burma’s cities lacking in all kinds of infrastructure, not least that which deals with the country’s excretions.
The Yangon City Development Committee now operates some pay-to-use toilets instead of the old underground toilets, which were built more than 50 years ago. But the many open sewers infuriate locals, who also have to deal with a rundown network of pipes, an unreliable water supply and a poor drainage system.
According to a 2011 presentation by Khant Zaw, director of Burma’s Department of Development Affairs, Rangoon is served by sewerage that feeds into a waste treatment plant. Few improvements have been made in the city since the presentation was drawn up.
It says Rangoon’s sewerage is designed to serve only 350,000 people, and the rest use septic tanks or pit latrines, where waste goes straight into the ground. Some estimates have the city’s population at 6 million.
The city processed 111,840 gallons of sewage per day, the presentation said.
The capital Naypyidaw and Mandalay use only septic tanks and pit latrines, according to the presentation.
Ko Ko Zaw, a resident of Rangoon’s Pazuntaung Township who works for a car rental service, said in public spaces, like the jetties along the river, people simply urinate on the street.
“There’s a bad smell around the jetties in Rangoon because, at night, people always break the rules,” he said. “They don’t even go to the toilets in the city center. It’s such an uncivilized act.”
However, Ko Ko Zaw said, bad sanitation is a nationwide problem that should be addressd with more public toilets.
“There are no clean toilets along the highways,” he said, specifying that he was not referring to the newer Rangoon-Naypyidaw road, which has frequent toilet stops that are maintained.
Jefery Tupas, a journalist from the Philippines who visited Rangoon in September, said the city’s sanitation did not leave a good impression.
“I am kind of squeamish when it comes to public facilities,” he said, adding that the common sight of murky, foul smelling floodwaters was a particular put-off.
“I think the government must remedy the sewerage system and the waterways, one of the things that must be ensured by developing nations is waterways, canals and sewerage systems.”
Anucha Mum, a Thai citizen who recently visited to Burma said even in Buddhist temples around the country he was unimpressed by the cleanliness of the toilets.
“Toilets in temples must be improved, they are dirty and unhygienic, all need to be cleaned,” he said.
The Asian Development Bank recently launched a US$50,000 pilot project on sanitation in Burma, but much work needs to be done to bring sanitation in the country to a decent standard.