Toilet renovation starts sanitation revolution
Zheng Enguang, 70, a farmer on the rural outskirts of North China's Tianjin Municipality, no longer has to walk some 40 metres to his hutong's public toilet. Using funds from the local government, Zheng has built a bathroom inside his house.
Zheng was among the first group of about 350,000 farmers to benefit from the "Toilet Renovation Project" launched by the local government.
The project, introduced in 2003, is expected to renovate one million latrines or rural toilets in Tianjin's outskirts within three years, helping more than 90 per cent of rural residents to install flush toilets at home.
In China, about 70 per cent of people live either on farms or in villages. No formal waste management systems are in place for these people.
There are approximately 200 million latrines in rural areas in China, which are no more than a pit underneath or a trough running to a storage pit in the corner of courtyards or behind buildings, according to government statistics. This poses a sanitary problem. Health departments and sanitary experts say rural latrines are a breeding ground for infectious diseases.
As part of its effort to improve the living standards of residents, especially sanitation, the Tianjin municipal government has allocated more than 5 million yuan (US$602,409) for the project. The money will provide 50 yuan (US$6) in subsidy for each rural household to renovate their toilets.
Despite the subsidies, it is still not easy to persuade villagers to build new flush toilets, said Zhang Changshan, deputy director of a commission in charge of the city environment.
In the traditional eyes of Chinese farmers, latrines are dirty, filthy things which should not be allowed into their homes.
In Tongjiagou Village of the city's Baodi rural district, the village-level government faced strong opposition when it advised its farmers to renovate their latrines. Many villagers said they felt quite comfortable with their existing traditional ones.
To help change perceptions, the officials invited the villagers to visit homes of the people who had taken advantage of the subsidy. Children were the predominant force in accepting the new style.
"If people didn't want to or had no money to invest, we did not oblige them to do so. It's of their own free will," said Zhang. "But most farmers getting relatively affluent are willing to have a better life environment when they come to realize they can choose one."
Toilet renovation means convenience and hygiene.
Shuigaozhuang Village in the outskirts of Tianjin used to be considerably polluted. Rubbish littered the town and the village had a permanent stench from a pool which had lain abandoned for 40 years.
The local government allocated more than 500,000 yuan (US$60,000) to clean up the pool and planted trees around the bank, transforming it into to a lovely, green park.