The recent provision of public toilets in Addis Abeba is welcome. Yet the details of their provision give rise to questions of public health. DAWIT ENDESHAW, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, declined a cup of coffee at a public toilet compound but talked with multiple users of the facilities and shares their experience.
It was early in the morning of December 17, 2015, at the heart of Addis Abeba, Piazza where Fortune met Tadiwos Tadesse, a businessman. He was having his morning coffee, not at some of the fancy cafés along the streets of Piazza or not even at one of the many coffee houses opened here and there. Ironically, it was inside the small compound in which the most recent supply of public toilets has been placed around the city. Immediately outside the toilet cubicles are seats around him to accommodate any patrons from among the passersby.
Fully funded by Addis Abeba Water & Sewerage Authority (AAWSA), with a total budget of 250 million Br, there are now almost 170 total of the same design open to the public. The toilet compounds are fenced – some with bricks others with wire and some have tiled floors. Each compound occupies 60sqm to 200sqm of land, the size varying with amount of land available in the area.
As is usually the case, the toilets for males and females are separate and there are also some designated for people with disabilities. In some locations, there are also adjacent rooms reserved for small shops, ticket offices and rooms for preparing fast foods. The design work of the toilets was done by the Authority, while the construction was consulted by Construction Design S.C. The aluminium toilet booths or kiosks were initially made by the Metal & Engineering Corporation (MetEC) and later by small & micro enterprises.
Managing the toilets and running the business within the compound, are previously unemployed people and people with disabilities, organised in groups of 10 to 15, with 70pc priority given to women. These people, engaged in small and micro-enterprises, are given a three-year contract to run the toilets and associated businesses.
The toilets are designed to give parking and fast food services, as well as to offer free drinking water to anyone who asks. In case of water shortage or interruption, a tank with 3,000lt capacity is installed inside the fence.
One concern is that the toilets visited seem prone to cross-contamination. For example, at one compound in Atkilt Tera, where there are 18 toilets, poor usage, includ most users not flushing after using. One of the attendants had to interrupt her coffee roasting to clean the toilets.
Misuse of toilets is not strange when one considers that some 34 million people in Ethiopia still practise open defecation, according to a UN Press Release dated November 19, 2014. However, the same source reported that Ethiopia is also one of those countries where the practice is in rapid decline. This suggests need for a programme of public education and awareness surrounding the provision of public conveniences in the City, but this has not happened. Fortunately, there is running water at the public toilet sites around Addis Abeba, as well as the extra supply mentioned.
The regulatory work of operating the public toilets is to be undertaken by the Addis Abeba City Food, Medicine & Health Care Administration and Control Authority (FMHACA), but so far nothing has happened. An official with this Authority told Fortune that FMHACA has so far done nothing, but added that just having the toilets is good.
In the compound located in Piazza, along Churchill Avenue, there are eight separate cubicles, four dedicated for people with disabilities; three, yet to begin service. Coffee is served in one corner. The new toilets have been in service for the past month at a site which previously accommodated an open market as well as people who used to urinate in the open.
“The smell made this place very difficult to pass by,” said Tadiwos, remembering the old times.
But this is no longer the case.
Fortune met Tayech while she was cleaning the toilets at Atkilt Tera, complaining about the poor toilet habits of the users. The cleaners work until six o’clock and leave after locking all the rooms. However, they found one of the doors broken when they arrived at work one morning. The toilets were expected to be open until 10pm in this initial phase, but they are not doing that because of lack of power connection.
For Tayech Dadi and eight of her friends, including two with physical disabilities, the toilets have provided employment and a better way to spend their time. Tayech used to sell coffee on the street. Coffee sells for four Birr, tea for two Birr, and cake for five Birr, at the facility, where people pay 50 cents for urination and one Birr for defecation.
These facilities are all expected to begin fast food services. The Authority takes a 10pc cut from the revenue, which is used to pay for brushes, soaps, coffee and tea, Tayech said. It supplies them with chemicals. Demand is obviously high and Fortune was able to count 16 users in 30 minutes.
One of them was Tesfa Beza, 27, a lottery vendor, who has only one leg. Tesfa said he has found the new toilets user friendly. However, it is not clear whether the kiosks can accommodate wheelchair users.
But more toilets are on the way to service Addis Abeba’s growing population of over four million. So far there are almost 116 public and 188 communal toilets, with 700 more to be installed in the current fiscal year. Communal toilets are managed by residents of the communities in which they are located. Location of all the toilet compounds is selected depending on population density. Up to 2009, there were only 63 public toilets in Addis.
The City’s Water & Sewage Authority has already identified 16 locations along the east-west light railway transit route, from Summit to the National Stadium for a more installations.
In terms of sewage disposal, some of the toilets have been linked to sewerage lines, where they exist, whereas others will be served with vacuum trucks, said Etsegnet Tesfaye, head of communication affairs at AAWSA.
The new service is in its infancy and though the job of maintaining them cannot be pleasant, one user took the time to express his appreciation for the condition in which they are kept so far.
“I wish they [toilets] will continue as clean as they are today,” said Tadiwos, draining his coffee cup.
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