Fri, Nov 19, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Beijing summit sees toilets as a basic human right

THE GUARDIAN , BEIJING

Chinese journalists in Beijing yesterday videotape urinals that come with their own video screens in the public toilet at the National Museum as delegates attending the 2004 World Toilet Summit paid a visit to one of the better toilets in the city.

PHOTO: AP

In the panapoly of human rights, it isn't the first to trip off the tongue. But more than 150 delegates at an international conference on Wed-nesday urged that it should be.

The World Toilet Summit began in Beijing with experts demanding that access to, and cleanliness of public loos should be a basic human right. The annual summit brings together academics, environmentalists and toilet-company executives to raise awareness of global trends affecting their use and abuse.

According to the organizers, the toilet topic is one of the world's last great taboos -- on a par with sex, which gave rise to the sexual revolution in the 1960s, women's rights, which led to women's liberation in the 1970s and reappraisals of stigmatized diseases such as leprosy and Aids in the 1980s and 1990s.

"People are saying `We want good toilets!' because toilets are a basic human right and that basic human right has been neglected," said Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organization, a co-sponsor of the summit.

"The world deserves better toilets," he said.

The toilet movement could hardly have chosen a more fitting venue. Few countries have more room for improvement than the summit host, China, which acknowledged at the start of the three-day event that 60 percent of foreign visitors are unhappy with local loos.

But Beijing is keen to show that it is cleaning up its act ahead of the 2008 Olympics. In the past three years, the city has spent 238 million yuan (US$28.7 million) on building or refitting 747 washrooms at tourist spots. It has also introduced a grading system that ranks public toilets like hotels. Municipal officials boast that Beijing can now offer 88 four-star loos with remote-sensor flushing, automatic hand-driers and even piped music.

But at the bottom of the new toilet class system, millions of people still have to share public facilities so fetid that they could hardly fail to agitate even the most politically placid user.

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