Grand designs for low-cost latrines

Innovation, Water

A project in Northern Kenya using a build your own bog approach, otherwise known as Community-Led Total Sanitation, has led to some unusual and encouraging results. Oxfam’s Public Health Promoter Audrey Andwati and SWIFT’s Learning and Communications Support Officer Emma Feeny explain.

It may not be a multi-bedroom mansion or cunning warehouse conversion, but Moru Echom is justifiably proud of the results of her construction project, which is set to have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of her family. The latrine she built two months ago has provided all seven of them with access to safe sanitation for the first time, and will help reduce the risk of diarrhoea, typhoid and many other diseases among her community.

Moru Echom inside the latrine she and her family constructed around the ferro-cement slab in September 2015. The latrine is now used by the household of seven. Credit: Audrey Andwati/OxfamMoru lives in a village which is home to internally displaced people in Kakuma, in the west of Turkana in Kenya’s arid northern region. The area is one in which the SWIFT Consortium (of which Oxfam is
a member) is working to implement a modified version of the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach, a process of mobilising communities to completely eliminate open defecation. 

The CLTS approach focuses on triggering a community’s desire for collective change, and helping it to build its own latrines, using locally available resources. Usually, no subsidies or material support of any kind is provided.

However, in Turkana the ‘zero-subsidy’ CLTS approach has faced a number of challenges in the past. The poor soil formation in the area led many latrines to collapse, while the timber slabs used for squatting became infested by termites. In addition, flooding in the region affected the floors of the latrines and caused many of the pits to fill with water, and the use of timber was considered unsustainable because of the lack of vegetation in the region.

In recognition of these issues, Oxfam’s team in Turkana asked the County Government if it could pilot a modified version of CLTS, under which communities are trained to produce dome-shaped slabs from ferro-cement, a form of cement mortar applied over wire meshes. These slabs are permanent, inexpensive, easy to replicate and much stronger than the timber alternatives.
 
A template is used to create the footholds in the slab and the removable cover, which is lifted off and on with a metal wire handle when the slab is finished. Credit: John Erupe/OxfamAfter several months of discussion, the County Government agreed. It has since thrown its full weight behind the modified approach, actively supporting the roll-out and asking Oxfam to scale up the process in other villages.

Under the SWIFT programme, community health volunteers have been shown not only how to produce the slabs themselves, but also how to train others to do so, ensuring the sustainability of the approach. Once built, the slabs are allocated to households so that they can construct their latrines, with technical support provided to ensure basic standards are met; for example, pits must be at least three-five metres deep depending on the soil formation, latrines must be sited well away from water points and the privacy and dignity of users must be ensured.

Beyond that, it’s up to each household to design its own latrine. Families can decide which materials to use, how big to make the toilets, and what features to include, and communities in Kakuma have produced some impressive results, as can be seen in the photo gallery below. Some households have opted for natural materials and organic styles; others have recycled tin cans and sacks, or used sheets of gleaming metal for a more contemporary finish. 

What’s important is the care invested in constructing the latrines, which shows the community’s high level of engagement with the process. There is a clear sense of ownership on display here, suggesting that these families which now have access to sanitation for the first time will ensure the latrines are maintained well into the future. Not just grand designs then, but sustainable and potentially life-saving constructions. 

More examples of latrines built after the training and material support provided by the SWIFT consortium. Credit: Audrey Andwati/Oxfam

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Photos

  1. Moru Echom inside the latrine she and her family constructed around the ferro-cement slab in September 2015. The latrine is now used by the household of seven. Credit: Audrey Andwati/Oxfam 
  2. A template is used to create the footholds in the slab and the removable cover, which is lifted off and on with a metal wire handle when the slab is finished. Credit: John Erupe/Oxfam
  3. More examples of latrines built after the training and material support provided by the SWIFT Consortium. Credit: Audrey Andwati/Oxfam

Author: Emma Feeny
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.