It is an all too common and unwelcome sight in Pakistan to see every roadside and street corner being employed, unabashed, as a public lavatory. Naturally, this is a behavioural defect that requires not only extensive public awareness and education, but more crucially, the provision of necessary facilities. Forty-four percent of the Pakistani population do not have access to safe toilets, while 53 percent of women in Pakistan do not have access to properly sanitized toilets with adequate privacy.

Though the official World Toilet Day was on 19 November, and has gone by, it is pertinent to address an issue seen as too unfashionable to discuss in a public forum. The indignity of the absence of lavatories aside, insufficient and unhygienic sanitation is a leading cause in the spread of diseases. Too many to record in full, typhoid, diarrhea and cholera are a few examples of the risks. Pakistan is 15 years behind schedule on its Millennium Development Goal target regarding sanitation, and the situation warrants no cause for optimism.

Other than the multitude of bacterial and viral infections that are spread through these unsanitary conditions, the complete absence of privacy for a large majority of women is a travesty that needs immediate addressing. In a country like ours, where a culture of shaming and harrasment is common, special care must be taken in this regard.

The fact that there are only 40 public toilets in a huge megalopolis like Karachi, out of which only 17 are functional (not looking at sanitation concerns), is what should shock us, not the fact that people are then reduced to being a spectacle for others. Yes, we suffer from terrorism, a flagging economy and a multitude of concerns that keep us awake at night. But let’s face it, in this day and age, with our superfast smartphones and fancy touch screens, the fact that half of us do not have access to toilets, is nothing short of criminal.