• Kyodo

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Unique emergency toilets designed by groups of industrious high school girls are drawing praise as Japan looks for new ways to prepare for its next natural disaster.

The students turned to the drawing board after being inspired by disaster-preparedness lessons at school, and some of their ideas are being developed into real products.

Aware that many of those who survived the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku are still stuck in evacuation centers far from the comforts of home, the students are acutely aware of the need to keep emergency toilets on hand at all times.

On March 15 in quake-hit Sendai, which was hosting the U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, one group of budding designers handed out prototypes of a design for an emergency toilet.

“It’s small in size with a cute design, and if you keep it in your bag you can feel at ease,” Ayaka Horinouchi, 17, of Meguro Seibi Gakuen High School in Tokyo said about the “improvised toilet from a girl’s point of view” that she and a group of friends designed.

The students developed the toilet by combining existing products after getting permission from the manufacturers. An absorbent sheet in a plastic bag soaks up liquid waste, turning it into a gel, while an outer bag made of a deodorizing substance wraps around the inner bag to prevent foul odors from escaping.

The girls came up the idea after feeling embarrassed at the prospect of having to use manholes if the flush toilets at their school are disabled in a disaster.

They were full of ideas at the development stage, debating whether to attach a light or a speaker that plays a flushing sound, a courtesy that can be found in many of the nation’s public toilets.

Fellow designer Shiori Uenami, 17, said she wants to keep coming up with ways to prepare for disasters while having fun in the process.

“There are ways we too can contribute,” she said.

A pair of high school students from Tokushima Prefecture have developed a cardboard Western-style sit-down toilet to help disabled or elderly people who might have difficulty with traditional squat toilets, which are often the only option in emergencies.

Students Hikari Abe and Keina Nijo, both 16, of Awa High School in Tokushima Prefecture, collaborated with a local manufacturer to design their toilet. Despite its cardboard construction, the toilet is strong enough to support an adult and takes only about a minute to assemble.

In a disaster-preparedness workshop at their school, Abe and Nijo had learned about the lack of sufficient toilets in evacuation centers following the March 2011 disasters, and how that affected the evacuees’ health.

Unsanitary conditions led to the spread of infectious diseases, while some evacuees became dehydrated because they refrained from drinking to avoid frequent use of the toilets.

“Shikoku could also be hit by an earthquake, and we hope (these toilets) will be useful then,” Abe said.

Atsushi Kato, representative director of the nonprofit research group Japan Toilet Labo, welcomed the younger generation’s contributions, saying further preparations are needed to provide sufficient toilets for use in disasters.

“Compared with water and food, toilets tend to be left out of disaster-preparation measures, but they are a matter of human dignity and human life,” Kato said.

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