YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - Activists in Cameroon held events and marches for Thursday's World Toilet Day, calling on authorities to provide more public bathrooms. Cameroonian authorities say 60% of its 25 million people lack toilets, fueling the spread of diseases such as cholera and dysentery.
School authorities at Yaounde's Government Primary School Efoulan say they have close to 2,000 children and teachers but only five toilets, which are often unusable as they run short of water and toilet paper.
The Cameroon Association to Improve Hygiene organized this and similar events in 30 schools in the capital to mark this year's World Toilet Day.
The group's head, Edmond Kimbi, said hundreds of their members also marched in Yaounde and coastal cities to demand more and better public toilets.
"It is actually too regrettable that schools and universities have very few toilets, which lack water and are always dirty," he said. "It is worse when you visit markets, where thousands of people visit the markets each day. The consequences of this is that nearby bushes and dark corners are being transformed into toilets, thereby making our towns always dirty."
Authorities say a September outbreak of cholera, a bacterial disease spread through dirty water, in the port cities of Douala and Kribi killed at least 90 people.
Dr. Sintieh Ngek, a medical officer with the Cameroon Baptist Convention, said the lack of toilets is spreading disease.
"Waterborne and water-based diseases like cholera, like diarrheal diseases, will be more present, and it is worth noting that these diarrheal diseases are among the leading causes of mortality for children under 5 years of age," the doctor said. "Secondly, if persons do not have toilets, they turn to use bushes, they turn to use streams. When this happens, bacteria from these feces are easily collected into water."
Yaounde hygiene official Gabriel Minou said the city council is partnering with private companies to construct more public bathrooms. Meanwhile, he said, anyone caught defecating or urinating in the street or in rivers will pay fines of up to $20.
Minou said the inability of the Yaounde City Council to efficiently manage toilets is due to the fact that many users do not want to pay before using the public bathrooms. He said the Yaounde City Council has ordered its hygiene services to repair public toilets and make sure people pay before using them. Minou said the council has also ordered intercity bus agencies to make sure toilets are provided free of charge to all passengers.
The United Nations' World Toilet Day seeks to raise awareness of more than half the world's population living without access to safe sanitation and the deadly costs.
The U.N. says globally more than 800 children under 5 die every day from diarrheal diseases due to poor sanitation.