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Jakarta Post

Wake up and smell the pee: Public urination rampant in Jakarta

  • Callistasia Anggun Wijaya
    Callistasia Anggun Wijaya

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, November 19, 2018   /   06:32 am
Wake up and smell the pee: Public urination rampant in Jakarta Agency head Isnawa Adji said he hoped that, no later than 2020, the city administration could develop some eco-friendly public toilets in crowded areas to serve the people. (JP/Bimo Raharjo )

Jakarta is a city that never sleeps, and while it’s awake, many residents spend their time on the streets, where public toilets are scarce. Hence, a urine stench often greets Jakartans in busy places.

Informal-sector workers like ojek (motorcycle taxi) drivers and street vendors spend much time outside without access to proper sanitation facilities, forcing some of them to practice public urination.

The odor of urine is particularly strong in some busy areas, such as train stations and bus stops.

The sight of a man urinating on a plant, open sewer or wall is quite common in parts of the city, especially at night. Public urination is actually forbidden under a Jakarta bylaw.

Putri Anisa, 27, a resident of Depok who works in Jakarta, said she always smelled a strong urine odor while walking to the Sarinah Transjakarta bus stop on Jl. MH Thamrin in Central Jakarta. The area under the pedestrian bridge smelled so awful that she had to cover her nose and mouth with her hand while passing by.

To her great annoyance, Putri said one day she came across a man who was about to pee under the bridge in the middle of the day. She walked fast to avoid that man.

“It was so embarrassing and awkward. I still don’t understand how he had the nerve to pee in public at noon,” Putri told The Jakarta Post.

Zhahrah Qamaranii, 25, an employee of a private company in Slipi, West Jakarta, said she smelled the urine odor every time she walked under a pedestrian bridge at the Palmerah train station in Central Jakarta. 

Easier in the sewer

Conventional and app-based ojek drivers usually wait for their passengers on streets and sidewalks around Palmerah Station. Numerous street vendors that have set up shop on the sidewalks add to the area’s crowdedness.

Ojek driver Mugiono, 35 admitted that a lot of ojek drivers relieved themselves in the station area, frequently under the pedestrian bridge or inside the open sewer near the railway tracks. Mugiono said the sewer was quite deep, so no one would see if someone jumped in there to urinate. 

However, he said, it was not only the drivers who urinated there, but also rail passengers who were going to work.

He said he could actually go to the nearby mosque or gas station, but they were just too far. 

Using the station’s toilet is not an option for him, because to get there, he would have to pass the ticket gate. He also cannot use toilets at supermarkets, because the storekeepers usually do not allow noncustomers to do so.

“They often use the pretext that the toilet is broken or clogged. I also can’t use the toilet in buildings near the station, because to do that I have to show my ID card, which is so troublesome,” Mugiono said.

Sisyphean task

It falls upon public facility maintenance agency (PPSU) workers to clean the mess every day. Because besides cleaning the area of trash, they also have to get rid of the urine smell. 

The workers recruited by the Gelora subdistrict clean the sewer with disinfectant to alleviate the smell every two days. However, it is a Sisyphean task, because the spot will be smelly again soon.

From 2015 to 2018, city authorities have received 83 complaints about public urination through complaint-handling app Qlue, mostly from Central and West Jakarta. 

The low number of complaints does not reflect the real conditions, since a lot of users may be reluctant to report public urination, as they have to attach a photo as evidence in their reports.

On Jl. Matraman Raya, East Jakarta, for instance drivers of angkot (public minivans) and bajaj (three-wheeled motorized vehicle) often urinate in public. Back in December last year, a video of a member of the Matraman Police throwing a brick at an angkot driver who was peeing went viral on social media. 

The police officer, chief Brig. Sugino, who retired last October, said he could catch about 10 men urinating on the street every day. He said he had lost his temper and thrown the brick because the driver frequently urinated in the area despite being reprimanded. 

“Sometimes, I asked them to do push-ups or sing national songs like “Garuda Pancasila” or “Indonesia Raya” to punish them. However, they felt no remorse,” Sugino recalled his experience. 

Women go the extra mile

Public urinating seems to involve more men than women. 

An owner of a small kiosk on the sidewalk of Jl. Kebon Sirih in Central Jakarta, Ani, 42, said she always went back to her boarding house if she wanted to pee. As she was befriended with a security officer of an apartment building in the area, she could also go there to use the toilet, she said.

Aris Cahyadi, the head of the Public Order Agency in Tanah Abang, an area also blighted with public urination, said it was very challenging for his officers to catch people peeing on the streets, as they usually fled quickly after doing their business.

According to the city’s public order regulation, public urination and defecation is punishable by fines ranging from Rp 100,000 (US$6.77) to Rp 20 million or up to 60 days in jail.

Even though his personnel preferred a soft approach, by only reprimanding people caught peeing in public, Aris said, the officers were committed to enforcing the regulation. 

“If someone is caught red-handed peeing on the street, we will punish him according to the regulation,” Aris said.

City’s plan

To tackle the problem, the Jakarta Environment Agency is set to procure 36 portable toilets in December to serve people working in areas that do not have sufficient public toilets.

The agency says it is still mapping out the area by considering the needs of the people, the size of the area and the agency’s capability in supplying the water and cleaning the toilets. The residents will be able to use the toilets for free. 

Agency head Isnawa Adji said he hoped that, no later than 2020, the city administration could develop some eco-friendly public toilets in crowded areas to serve the people. He added that the procurement might be conducted in cooperation with private companies.

Isnawa claimed people could actually find the nearest toilet to urinate but had just grown accustomed to the “bad habit”.

Many cities in the world, in fact, have a similar problem. Residents of New York City, for example, have relied on the toilets inside Starbucks coffee shops. In 2011, The New York Times published a story about Starbucks “mutiny” against people using their toilets as a public good because of the rampant practice. (evi)