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Getting caught short in Abidjan

Men urinating in public in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

By John James
BBC News Abidjan

To be caught short in downtown Abidjan, where there are few public toilets, is no problem for most male residents of this sophisticated Ivorian city.

Urinating in full view seems to pose little embarrassment - and is a regular sight in the bustling port built on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and West Africa's biggest salt-water lagoon.

A sign saying: "My brother, don't urinate here"
There are signs all over the city urging people not to urinate in public
"Sometimes you're obliged to urinate outside," one man said, defending those who answer nature's call in public.

But the practice is by no means welcomed by all locals.

"Really, in the open air like that!" complained one woman.

"It's not very hygienic. We women think before we leave the house.

"As for the men, they're comfortably doing it wherever and whenever they fell like it."

A male resident agreed: "You can't just urinate wherever you want. We're not animals after all!"

"When it rains, water comes up everywhere and children play there, and it can lead to illness and people aren't aware of the cause, it's pretty stupid really."

Headache

The city is full of home-made signs urging people not urinate in public.

"My brother, don't urinate here," reads one.

Sign asking people not to urinate in public
There will be real sanctions against this type of behaviour
Dr Marie Josephe Bitty

Others are more forceful in their warnings: "You piss; we'll hit you."

But the notices seem to have done nothing to deter those apparently unconcerned about relieving themselves in full view of passers-by.

For the health authorities, the habit is a big headache.

Human faeces are a major source of diarrhoea, which is the second biggest killer of children in the developing world, says Yao Kadjo, in charge of water, sanitation and hygiene at the UN Children's Fund in Ivory Coast.

"This is a huge problem for the population in terms of health, in terms of pollution of the environment and in terms of pollution of government facilities and in terms of soil," he said.

He also pointed to the lack of public toilets and said that Unicef was working with the government and non-governmental organisations to create enough urban public loos.

According to the UN, six out of 10 Africans do not have access to a proper toilet.

Force

Dr Marie Josephe Bitty has had enough and is determined to beat the practice.

A sign in Abidjan saying "Forbidden to urinate here"
Officials fear it is going to be a hard habit to stop

She is the director of hygiene promotion at the Ministry of Health and Hygiene and is spearheading a public campaign to end the practice.

"Even it it's a habit - something cultural - I think that if it's bad for people's health, we need to tell people and families, so that their health is preserved."

She is touring the city with a road show warning people of the dangers. Posters are being put up around Abidjan.

A new hygiene code has also been drawn up and is waiting approval by the national assembly which would bring in tough new fines.

So determined is Dr Bitty that force is being considered.

"If we have a squad of enforcement officers who first of all inform people that they shouldn't be doing these things, that's a first stage," she says.

"In addition to this, there will be real sanctions against this type of behaviour, but I do think sensitisation is very important."

But it could be a long battle.

"People do that [urinate in public] because they've become accustomed to it since they were children," one man said.

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SEE ALSO
Country profile: Ivory Coast
16 Jan 08 |  Country profiles


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