Beijing: A toilet revolution is underway in China as it scrambles to meet a UN health target requiring 75 per cent of rural areas to have sanitary toilets by this year, state-run media reported today.
Toilets in the Chinese countryside have earned a nasty reputation, with some little more than ramshackle shelters surrounded by bunches of cornstalk and others just open pits next to pigsties.
China's national standard requires "sanitary" toilets in rural homes to have walls, roofs, doors and windows and to be at least two square meters in size. They may be flush toilets or dry toilets with underground storage tanks.
Provincial officials around the country said they have been asked to renovate sub-standard toilets and build new ones for farmers, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
"Toilets seem like quite an insignificant thing, easily overlooked, but we find it to be an important and quite difficult task," Chen Xiaojin, deputy chief of the health department in eastern China's Jiangsu Province, told Xinhua.
According to the National Health and Family Planning Commission, a national figure on rural toilets will not be available until the end of the year. But the commission said China should have no problem meeting the UN target, as the last year's figure had already reached 74 per cent.
China will set an additional national target of 85 per cent for 2020.
"We must realise the period from now to 2020 is crucial. We are under a lot of pressure and officials at every level must advance with the campaign," said Li Bin, head of the commission, at a national conference last December.
In the villages, households received 800 yuan (about USD 129) each from the government to rebuild or renovate their toilets during the first half of 2015. The average home toilet upgrade costs about 3,000 yuan (about USD 483) and the farmers must pay the costs not covered by the subsidies.
From 2004 to 2013, China's central government earmarked 8.27 billion yuan to build toilets in rural areas. Farmers who have agreed to build new toilets are eligible to receive the funds. However, officials claim convincing rural residents to change their toilets is a challenge.
"Most villagers are used to their way of using the toilet. It is hard to change," said Wang Zhigang, Communist Party secretary in Tanggou Township in northern Jiangsu.
Farmers collect feces to be composted on their farmland. If they use flush toilets, no compost will be left behind. Dry toilets with tanks bring the extra task of regular cleaning.
"We had to build a few toilets first and take villagers to visit, and then encourage them to build new ones," he said.
Slogans such as "sanitary toilets improve lives" are painted on walls of rural homes. TV stations are told to air videos promoting the use of better toilet facilities.