ABU DHABI // Answering the call of nature in the capital is about to become much more comfortable and hygienic when 60 hi-tech lavatories are installed along the Corniche, near major roads and in parks. At a total cost of Dh50 million (US$13.6m), the new self-cleaning toilets are part of the municipality's scheme to update "street furniture" also including the city's bus shelters and benches.
The lavatory booths were originally scheduled for installation last year, but Viola, the marketing firm which supplies the "superloos", said the project had been delayed by problems with water, sewer and telephone connections. Ammar Sharaf, chief executive of the company, gave an assurance this week that all the toilet blocks would be working by June. The units are to be stationed in areas of high pedestrian traffic such as the Spinneys grocery store in Khalidiya, where a non-operational demonstration unit is already located.
As well as having air conditioning and emergency phones, the automatic toilets will be equipped with instructions in Arabic, Urdu, English and Farsi. Some of the gender-neutral units will have motorised floors that rotate, sanitise and dry between uses. Other units will have automatic brushing mechanisms. "What we're presenting will be like the Mercedes class of toilets," Mr Sharaf said. "It's the latest technology in automatic public toilets in the world."
The Italian sanitary services company PT Matic will build 30 of the facilities and the Swedish firm Danfo will supply the rest. Mr Sharaf said users would deposit Dh2 to unlock the booth door. "You pick your language, you put the coins in and when the door opens, you go in and the system talks to you," he said. So far, 10 demonstration lavatories from both supply companies are in the city centre awaiting hookups to power and sewer lines, according to JD Bhardwaj, the general manager of Danfo Middle East.
Mr Bhardwaj added that the Swedish units had been specially designed for a Middle Eastern climate and used up two-thirds less water than other similar automatic toilets "while still giving 99.9 per cent hygiene". Jihad Messarra, the marketing manager for PT Matic, said the company had also signed an agreement with Dubai Municipality to supply 100 Italian-designed blocks. A maintenance team will monitor the capital's toilets around the clock, he said. "For example, if the soap or water is low inside, there will be a sensor sending for maintenance ... and they will come fix it," Mr Messarra said.
The installation of Abu Dhabi's new toilets follows a municipality survey of 10,000 residents in 2007, which identified the condition of public conveniences as one aspect of the city that could be improved. In an interview last year Omar al Hashemi, head of the municipality's City Image Management section, said "the city's urban furniture should reflect the prestige and the importance of the capital".
Regarding the old toilets and the need to switch to state-of-the-art facilities, he noted that "the frequency of the cleaning was not matching the hygienic standards". Residents have complained about the city's public toilets in the past. Ramesh Menon, 42, who works for an oil production company in the capital, said clean outdoor washrooms were in short supply near the Corniche beach area as well as public parks and along Sheikh Zayed Road.
"It's a very useful idea for the public to have neat and clean toilets and it's also necessary because there are people coming from outside and right now they have to use the malls," said Mr Ramesh. "If a mall is not open, where will they go?" Mr Sharaf agreed sanitary public lavatories were lacking in the city. "A lot of people are afraid, actually, to use public toilets," he said, adding that the maintenance of such public facilities was vital to a city's image. "Imagine you are a tourist and you're going to a bad toilet. The first thing you're going to say when you get home is, 'The country was nice, but the toilets were not'."
The 60 locations chosen for the lavatories by the municipality may just the first stage in a larger plan to improve the emirate's public facilities. In time, the hi-tech toilets could go beyond the island. "I'm sure that Abu Dhabi needs a lot more than 60," Mr Sharaf said. "We discussed good plans to go to the Western Region and Al Ain because those places are growing, so I think a time will come to service those areas."
email@example.com * With additional reporting by Zoi Constantine