Editorial | No place to go
The rapid development of Jamaican towns and cities has not been matched by the availability of public sanitary facilities. It's easy to find new outlets for consumer items such as clothing and food but not so convenient to find a bathroom.
The result is that despite Jamaica having an anti-litter law, urination in public is prevalent, particularly among our menfolk, and the authorities simply look the other way or issue toothless threats.
For women, however, answering the call of nature can be a big challenge. Many have developed coping mechanisms, but we surmise that the lack of facilities may cause undue stress to others.
This is something that concerns visitors to the island who have given Jamaica low scores for its lack of public toilets and sanitary conveniences. Frommer's travel guide has this to say: "Don't expect to find convenient toilets if you are travelling around Jamaica.
"If you are in need, you may have to do as the locals and turn to the bush. Even in built-up resort areas, public toilets are not always available, and cleanliness can be an issue."
It's not only about visitors, though. Locals are equally concerned about the lack of toilet facilities in our various towns and cities. Rural areas tend to be worse than urban settings.
A letter writer to this newspaper made this urgent plea on behalf of the Old Capital, which has a high population density: "Please, please, help the centre of Spanish Town with a nice and comfortable restroom."
The writer also said: "A restroom or a bathroom is very important and necessary, just like our food and water. Can you imagine when a person needs to go to a bathroom, and there is none, how uncomfortable that person may feel?"
The availability and condition of public toilets are good indications of the country's level of civic commitment and its interest in promoting a clean and healthy environment. How can the Ministry of Health mount a campaign urging people to wash hands when there are few public facilities with wash basins? This is totally unrealistic.
We submit that an urgent audit needs to be conducted by all municipalities to determine the number of public toilets and to assess their condition.The municipalities should then respond by building toilets where there are none and putting measures in place to have a proper maintenance programme for those that exist.
If people are out and about for hours, it is likely that they will want to use a bathroom. There is an expectation that shopping areas, restaurants, and public spaces would provide these facilities. This is not the case, and where there are private facilities, they are often reluctant to give access to members of the public.
We understand that care of these facilities can become an issue. Sometimes the users leave bathrooms in a deplorable condition and may even vandalise them. It means, therefore, that attendants may have to be employed to monitor all public toilets. It may come down to charging a user fee for them. It is not unusual to charge for some of these services. In countries like England, it is commonplace to spend a penny.
We are not holding out much hope that our arguments will nudge the authorities into action, but we insist that provision of public sanitary convenience is a civic right, and It may even require legislation to make the provision of toilet facilities a statutory requirement.
It all boils down to a matter of upholding basic dignity.