Jack Sim knows the thrill of entering a toilet that had a flush, for the first time after years of following what he calls the ‘bucket system’.
The 52-year-old who spent the first six years of his childhood living in a slum in Singapore now works to raise the standards of public toilets the world over.
Sim is in India to join Hindustan Unilever in creating awareness about the need for hygienic public toilets ahead of World Toilet Day, on November 19. “The subject is quirky but it’s a media darling,” said Sim, in Mumbai on Thursday. “The message is to bring the subject [of toilets] to the top of the agenda.”
Sim founded the World Toilet Organisation [he calls it the WTO] in 2001. “I wanted to do something and I asked myself ‘who’ll do toilets?’ And then I felt, maybe it’s me,” he said.
He has seen Mumbai’s public toilets. “Your municipal toilets are not sexy,” who was in the building materials business before he started the WTO. “They are so drab. One needs to pay attention to the design, lighting.”
Sim said that the lack of hygienic toilets had a cost. “You spend on the doctor, on medicines, you lose work hours, girls won’t go to school if the toilets are unclean,” he said. “Instead, spend a little on clean toilets and save all that money.”
Sim plans to offer solutions to the civic bodies in Mumbai and New Delhi to cut existing costs of $8,000 (Rs 3,68,000), to build a toilet block by more than half.
He believes the lack of clean public toilets is a problem not just for the poor in slums but also for the rich who live in high rises. “There is defecation in the open. Flies do not make a distinction [between rich and poor],” said Sim. “So much money is spent on H1N1 which kills so few but what about the lack of hygiene which leads to so many diseases?”
Sim said the government should consider improving public toilets through a public-private partnership model. “Give private firms incentives, make it look like a business opportunity,” he said. He advocated the need for trained, uniformed staff to man toilets. “If you make it professional and pay them well, then the job gets dignity.”