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Latest DOH pitch for toilets: Bowl cheaper than smartphone

Latest DOH pitch for toilets: Bowl cheaper than smartphone

Families must give priority to having working toilets at home over acquiring new mobile phones, as only one in 10 barangays in the country has achieved zero open-defecation (ZOD) status, according to the Department of Health (DOH).

“If you are able to buy a cell phone, you should also be able to prioritize the dignity of your family by having a toilet,” Health Undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo said during the celebration of World Toilet Day on Tuesday.

A toilet is not a luxury, Bayugo said. “It’s one of the things that we should have at home for the health and safety of our family.”

The average price of a simple toilet bowl is just P1,200, or lower than a low-end smartphone that sells for P1,600.

DOH data show that of the 42,045 barangays in the country, only 4,625, or 11 percent, have been ZOD-certified, meaning residents in these areas “have abandoned the practice of open defecation.”

In the 2017 Philippine National Demographic and Health Survey, it was found that 4.5 percent of Filipinos did not have toilets and tended to practice open defecation. Another 24 percent used unimproved sanitation facilities.

The combined percentages represented about 28 million Filipinos, who produced 3,750 tons of waste and whose poor sanitation practices “pose a serious threat to the population.”

3.5M in metro

In Metro Manila alone, an estimated 3.5 million residents do not have access to toilets, according to Sen. Cynthia Villar, head of the Senate committee on environment and natural resources.

Villar said that since constructing a toilet cost around P20,000, the government would need to allocate P14 billion for the program. Currently, the DOH budget for building toilets is only P38 million.

She noted that while the budget for next year was raised to P350 million, this still fell short of the target.

The senator said there was a need to reduce the incidence of open defecation in the country, especially because families, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund, were spending at least P1,000 to treat illnesses that came about due to the absence of toilets.

Spread of diseases

The likelihood for diseases, such as cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A, diarrhea and polio, to spread increases because of open defecation practices, Bayugo said.

In July, environmental tests found Manila’s sewage positive for the Type 2 strain of the vaccine-derived poliovirus.

Apart from diseases, those who defecate in public, especially women and children, expose themselves to risks like sexual harassment and rape, according to Bayugo.

To check this problem, the DOH recently came out with the Philippine Approach to Sustainable Sanitation, which aims to ensure that by 2025, every barangay in the country will have achieved ZOD status.

It would also put in place “standards on the operation, management, construction and maintenance of septic tanks.”

“What’s happening now is that sometimes the raw material [from households] flow directly to our storm drains, rivers and eventually end up in Manila Bay,” Bayugo said.

“What we want is that there would be standards to be followed, and that local governments and the DOH would work together to monitor this,” he added.

In Manila’s Baseco Compound, the health department will set up a communal septic tank to which households can connect to ensure that their waste do not end up in canals that flow into the Manila Bay, Bayugo said.