A toilet to be proud of

Safe and affordable sanitation for all through business principles and local entrepreneurs

Eti, a Bangladeshi girl living in Monohorpur village, Satkhira
UNICEF Bangladesh/2022/Paul
05 April 2022

Whenever Eti woke up in the night needing the toilet, she tried to ignore her discomfort and hold on until morning. As soon as it was light in her village in Khulna’s Satkhira District in Bangladesh, Eti asked her mother to accompany her to the pit latrine some distance from their house.

The only time the 16-year-old felt safe relieving herself was when her mother was standing guard outside the toilet, which was barely shielded by flimsy sack cloth fencing. Inside, the smell made Eti gag, even when she covered her nose with a scarf. And she was always afraid of slipping and falling into the latrine like her grandmother once did, breaking her leg.

“Most of the latrines in our village are dirty and unhealthy, installed far away from home. As a result, everyone my age goes through the same experience as me,” Eti says, adding it got even harder when she started menstruating and needed to use the toilet more often.


Missing school due to diarrhoea and dysentery

Bangladesh has significantly improved access to sanitation and almost completely eliminated open air defecation. But poor-quality toilets continue to pose a threat to the health of millions of Bangladeshi children. In rural areas such as Eti’s, only one third of households dispose of child faeces safely.

Many latrines are shared, broken or of poor quality. Many lack a water seal, which means faeces are exposed contributing to bad odours and flies. For this reason, toilets are often located outside, some distance away from the home, and this can be unsafe for children and women.

Latrines are also regularly inundated or destroyed during floods and cyclones that hit Bangladesh, one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change.  Consequently, overflowing waste, that is full of pathogens, contaminates drinking water sources and contributes to the spread of diseases, many of which are deadly to children.

Eti often had to miss school due to diarrhoea and dysentery resulting from poor hygiene which is also attributed to the state of the family toilet. Her five-year-old brother was also susceptible to disease. But six months ago, her father, Md Ziarul Sardar, upgraded and improved their latrine, installing new rings and a new slab that has a water seal. Since then, none of the family have fallen ill and Eti has been able to keep up with her studies.

“Now I don't get sick like before and skip school. I can play with my friends and younger brother. I can also help my mother with the chores,” the teenager says.

Eti washes her hands at her home in Monohorpur village, Satkhira, Bangladesh
UNICEF Bangladesh/2022/Paul
Eti washes her hands at her home in Monohorpur village, Satkhira, Bangladesh. Her family is the first in their community to buy an improved toilet from local market suppliers under the UNICEF project.

Safer sanitation for everyone, no matter their income

For a long time, Eti’s father had been troubled by the poor sanitation situation for his family. He could see how it was making his wife and children sick. But Ziarul wondered how he could ever afford a better latrine for the family when all he earned was 200 taka (roughly $2.30) a day as daily wage labourer.

While scouting for work one day, Ziarul came upon a shop selling latrine supplies. Hafizur, the owner, is one of hundreds of entrepreneurs involved in a UNICEF-supported project to improve sanitation for more than one million Bangladeshi households by 2024. The “Scaling Up Sanitation Market Systems in Bangladesh” programme aims to achieve this by ensuring toilets are available to all children and affordable by their families, however modest their income. One way is through financial subsidies in the form of vouchers worth $50, which are given to 70,000 of the poorest households to spend on purchasing a twin pit toilet. 

As a participant of the programme, Hafizur received training on different types of improved latrines, how to make the parts, and how to source materials from private sector companies. He also learned about bookkeeping, customer service, strategies for increasing sales and the importance of raising awareness about good hygiene practices among his customers.

Putting those skills to use, Hafizur convinced Ziarul to invest in new latrine parts that he could pay off in instalments. He also explained to Ziarul the benefits of handwashing with soap and water. In total, Ziarul spent 3,300 taka (approximately $40) on toilet rings, pipes and a new slab.

“The basic latrine will be more suitable for ordinary households and those with little capacity and land. Those households can easily afford the offset latrine,” Hafizur says. This kind of latrine ensures that faeces can be more safely disposed of through pipes connecting to a pit.

“It is very effective because it lasts a long time for an individual household,” he adds.

Eiit and her family
UNICEF Bangladesh/2022/Paul
Eti, 16, smiles alongside her five-year-old brother Md. Tasin Sarder and her mother Rehana, 35, in their home in Monohorpur village, Satkhira, Bangladesh.

Investing in latrines means investing in health

As of December 2021, over 375,000 people purchased and gained access to improved toilets in Bangladesh, while 1,300 latrine entrepreneurs received training on improved latrines as part of the sanitation markets systems programme.

“Clean, functioning toilets are essential for children’s health and well-being. Good sanitation means children can stay in school and parents spend less on medical costs, while at the same time the safety and dignity of girls is improved,” says Zaid Jurji, Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene with UNICEF Bangladesh.

Ziarul is proud that his investment in a better-quality toilet is paying dividends for the health of his wife and children. His insistence on good hygiene practices, which are more important than ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has also helped the family.

“Now everyone washes their hands with soap after using the latrine, so there’s much less disease than before. My daughter is also able to go to school properly now. I'm able to work properly. My wife is not sick, and the little boy is not suffering,” he says.

Eti is happy she no longer has to walk a long way to use the toilet now that it has been moved closer to the family’s living quarters, and she feels much safer.

“Latrines must be close to home, so that there is no fear or hesitation in going to the latrine, especially during menstruation,” she says.