Spread awareness, not the germs: Encouraging people to stop using shared toilets and have their own

by: Rica Mae B. Valencia

“We are one extended family, with my siblings living in a compound. We use one CR. However, I want to have my own CR, not outside the house.” This is the statement of Tomas Bermudez (or Tatay Tom) in an interview regarding the current condition of his family’s sanitation and toilet.

Tom is a client of Tulay sa Pag-unlad, Inc. (TSPI)  and among the hundreds of residents of Barangay Kabulusan in Pakil Laguna who still use shared toilets.

Barangay Kabulusan is the largest and most populated of the 13 barangays of Pakil, Laguna. According to data from the Barangay Environmental Health amd Sanitation for 2014on from the Field Health Services Information System (FHSIS), only 737 out of the 832 households of the barangay have sanitary toilet facility; approximately 100 hundred families have yet to have their own toilet facility and are most likely sharing toilets.

In Libis, the part of the barangay near Laguna de Bay, where most households do not have their own toilet facility, the barangay leadership built a shared public toilet near the shore. This toilet is primarily used by residents around the area. During fiestas and other barangay events, the public toilet is also used by visitors. Considered a public toilet, it can be used by everyone for their toilet and sanitary needs.

However, despite the availability of a public toilet, open defecation is still prevalent in the barangay.

“(Marami pa rin dito ang dumudumi lang sa labas,  Lalo na sa parteng libis, said Eulalia Duran (or Nanay Lali) during an interview. (Many here still practice open defection, especially people living in the Libis part.) 

Problems in using shared toilets

Many problems arise from sharing toilets. In the case of Tatay Tom and his siblings, whose shared toilet is built within the family compound, the waiting time and unsanitary practices of other relatives are main issues. “If there’s someone using the toilet, you will have to wait. “Kapag may nakaupo, mag-antay ka. Tapos, may salaula gumamit, ‘yung mismong bowl ay tinutungtungan. P’wede namang pasalampak eh, The said. (Sometimes there are those who put their feet in the bowl when they could have sat on it.) 

Other problems include petty fights. Nanay Lali and Amelita Gonzales (or Nanay Amelita), shared their knowledge about the experiences of their fellow residents who share a toilet. “Minsan halimbawa, sa dami nilang gumagamit, ‘yung [ibang nahuhuling gumamit], nagagalit kasi madumi ‘yung CR. Tapos minsan pagka ‘yung isa gustong gumamit, may tao ganun. Minsan nag aaway-away sila.” (Sometimes when many individuals are sharing one toilet, the last one to use gets angry because the toilet is already dirty by the time his or her turn comes. And sometimes, the people sharing the toilet get into a fight.)

Another problem is improper construction due to limited space. Shared toilets are usually found outside houses because at least three families usually use it. Some of the shared toilets are located only a few meters from the water source. For instance, the toilet shared by the family of Marina Christe (or Nanay Marina) is located only a few yards outside of their house and a few meters beside their artesian wells or poso. The same placement of shared toilet maybe observed in the toilet shared by the family of Tatay Tom.

Ideally, a household’s toilet septic tank should have a minimum of 25-meter distance from the water source, such as deep wells and artesian wells. According to Julieta Botin, a sanitation inspector at the Pakil Office of Health Services, a toilet’s septic tank should be located deeper and lower than the water source to avoid contamination. Thus, toilets should not be positioned very near or above the water source. However, in most cases, shared toilets found in the barangay are located 5-10 meters from the residents’ water source.

When families use shared toilets, maintaining the structure becomes problematic. Hindi maayos, hindi siya napapaganda,” Nanay Amelita shared. (The shared toilet is not well or properly maintained. It is not being improved.)

Nanay Marina and Tatay Tom aim to improve their own toilet facilities; both have decided to take advantage of the Water, Sanitation, Hygiene (WASH) loan program of TSPI.

Health problems and poor sanitation

Aside from the experienced problems of the residents, sharing toilets also imposes risks to health. The most common causes of diseases are intestinal worms that can enter the body through one’s use of dirty toilets, as confirmed by Botin.

Other common disease associated with unsanitary toilet facilities and contaminated water is amoebiasis, and it manifests through stomachaches, vomiting, and loose bowel movement or LBM. Amoebiasis is the most prevalent water-borne disease in the barangay.

At the national level, 6000 Filipinos die every year due to water-borne related illnesses.

According to Botin, educating residents about risks in using shared toilet facilities can be done through short talks during home visits conducted by health and sanitation staff of the government. Frequent reminders on sanitation are also passed on to residents whenever the Office of Rural Health Services visits people in their homes.

The local government attempts to address the gap in household sanitary toilet facilities by giving of toilet bowl packages to residents. Botin said that the Provincial Health Office supplies the toilet bowls that are in turn distributed among municipalities. Such a supply, however, is limited and cannot accommodate everyone in their lists. In addition, financial constraints also hamper people from constructing their own toilets.

“The problem with that is, even though we give them bowls, if they are financially lacking, then it is senseless,” said Botin. If the cost of building a toilet facility is higher than buying a toilet bowl, then residents think twice of building their own toilet even though toilet bowls are already available.

Lack of capital to build a complete toilet facility is the primary reason identified by the residents behind the lack existing practice of sharing toilets. In addition, they also lack direct access to water, such as water from the faucet supplied by PAKWAD

Possible solutions

In a panel discussion attended by the residents who are also members of TSPI, several ideas emerged based on their own experiences on how to solve problems associated with using shared toilets. One possible solution is, according to Nanay Lali, “Mag-provide ng sari-sariling CR” (each household having its own toilet).

Nanay Amelita, on the other hand, sees the need to urge people to invest in their own toilet facilities. “Ikumbinsi mo ang mga tao na magpagawa ng [sariling toilet]. Tapos, sasabihin naman nila sayo ‘yung problema. Siyempre, sasabihin nila sa’yo ‘yung pampagawa, saan sila kukuha ng pampagawa, mga ganoong bagay.” (Convince people to have their own toilets constructed. But then, tell them that and they will complain as to where they will get money for such a project.)

Tatay Tom and Nanay Marina decided that they would apply for the WASH loan program to build and improve their toilet facilities.