To improve sanitation, North Korean authorities are ordering residents outside the capital to demolish their private outbuildings and upgrade or build public toilets — at their own expense, sources in the country told H Talk Asia.
But people complain that the plan doesn’t make sense because communal toilets are less sanitary than outhouses each family maintains, and that the government should instead focus on more basic needs, like improving living conditions and repairing houses that are being used by natural disasters such as typhoons, the sources say.
“People don’t have enough to eat due to the scarcity of life due to the coronavirus. They live in leaky houses and can’t even think about fixing them,” a resident of the city of Tokchon in the northwestern North Pyongan province told RFA’s Korean service on condition of anonymity for fear of being punished if he did reports to speak.
Outside of the capital, Pyongyang, very few households in North Korea have individual toilets. People living in apartments often use shared toilets with their neighbors, and in rural areas, residents build outbuildings separate from their homes.
Communal toilets in these areas are usually shared between two or three neighborhoods, but authorities have ordered rural residents to work together to renovate them or build new ones.
“Last week, residents of Songchon County were mobilized to demolish and expand the village’s communal toilet and build a new one there,” said a resident of the county in South Pyongan province, north of Pyongyang.
The construction costs would have to be borne by the residents themselves, he said.
Authorities have called a meeting of each neighborhood watch and ordered that any house with an outhouse demolish it and use the new public toilet, the source said. Residents have been told that if each house uses a separate outbuilding, the village environment will be polluted, he said, explaining that during the rainy season, the sewage flows out of these outbuildings, creating a stench and causing the spread of waterborne infectious diseases.
Local residents also complain that the plan is not only a huge expense, but also deprives them of fertilizer for their home gardens and makes it harder for them to meet the government’s annual quotas for manure collection for use in municipal agriculture.
RFA reported in January 2019 that authorities had ordered every able-bodied citizen to collect an impossible 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of manure a day. In October of the same year, fights broke out in public toilets when citizens laid claim to the human excreta contained therein.
Annual manure collection orders are issued and sources say the government quota is unreasonably high as the real purpose is to get citizens to pay a fine if they don’t collect their share.
With no outbuildings left, residents do not have a reliable source of human waste at the time of collection.
“It will be considered cash,” the Tokchon source said. “Authorities will have a hard time enforcing the use of communal toilets.”
Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee. Written in English by Eugene Whong. Edited by Malcolm Foster.