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    Local action for global sanitation crisis

    Deborah Singerman

    Privacy might be subjective and open to architectural trends but sometimes it is more absolute.

    Statistics from the United Nations children’s fund UNICEF are of some 2.4 billion people without access to safe toilets, a global problem that also covers one in three women having to go outside with no privacy. And if they find somewhere suitable, it has also been calculated that women and girls spend 97 billion hours each year looking for a private place to go.

    Violence including harassment makes it particularly difficult when they are menstruating, and leads to many of them not going to school or work.

    Kenyan-woman-standing-in-front-of-the-toilet-C-UNICEF-Kenya-2015-Vidyarthi.jpg
    Image: UNICEF

    A clever awareness-raising insight into this global sanitation crisis was recently erected at Sydney’s Bondi Beach, near the Pavilion, the first of possible further outings in what organisers hope will “help inspire action and drive changes”.

    The idea behind the See Through Loo is to give people a feel of what it is like to have no privacy. The walls are designed so that people inside think they are being watched but in fact they are not. You can't see in from the outside though those inside got the impression that you could.  

    UNICEF is in partnership with the product Domestos and manufacturer Unilever, who have committed to helping 25 million people have access to sanitation by 2020.

    “Access to toilets can be life-changing for girls who would otherwise skip school during menstruation and for women who risk their safety simply to find a safe and private place to relieve themselves,” says Felicity Wever, Head of International Programs at UNICEF Australia.

    Keynan-kid-at-school-in-front-of-the-toilet-C-UNICEF-Kenya-2015-Vidyarthi-1.jpg
    Image: UNICEF

    Keynan-kids-at-school-washing-their-hands-C-UNICEF-Kenya-2015-Vidyarthi-1.jpg
    Image: UNICEF

    Krstina Nicolai, Domestos brand manager adds that, “we have committed to building toilets in communities where they are needed and every bottle of (specially marked) Domestos sold from now until December makes a contribution” and helps to tackle this santiation crisis.   

    The Loo is portable so it requires no drainage, and is a prominent 2000x1500x1000mm with a 200x750mm door. The structural frame is made of steel, and the external and internal corners were covered in Mirror Dibond. The walls and door are made of 10mm Perspex with mirrored film on the outside and darkened film on the inside to achieve the effect of seeing out but not seeing in.

    It is the work of Germax Interiors, a Sydney-based company specialising in manufacturing and installation of hotel and custom office furniture, inspired by an Italian artist, Monica Bonvicini, who built the toilet as art installation in 2004.

    As to who will be building toilets in the developing countries and where, it will vary by country, location and the implementation partners that UNICEF work with. It will be within guidelines available for Community Lead Total Sanitation, WASH Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in schools and WASH in emergencies. 

    Equally, UNICEF and Domestos say the building programs will also vary, depending on needs, capacity and local context, sometimes involving local contractors or community members.

    It is not known if and how architects might be involved but Shaun Carter, President of the NSW Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects, sees the unique position of architects, as “great disparate generalists” to help humanitarian relief and to display “social conscience in human spaces”. 

    Deborah Singerman runs her own writing, editing, proofing and project managing consultancy specialising in the urban built environment and community. @deborahsingerma; [email protected]

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