Managing pitfalls of pit latrines

Our writer Manuel Ntoyai  spoke to Director for Water, Hygiene and Sanitation (Wash) at World Vision Kenya Enock Oruko on the state of sanitation in the country

People Daily: Neglect of pit latrines has been cited as a major problem for many households. Overflowing latrines are common. Comment on the situation.

Enock Oruko:  When pit latrines fill up, they need to be emptied. In urban centres, the emptying can be done using exhausters that dump it in designated places for treatment.

For poor households, the cost of procuring exhauster services may be too high, hence leading to neglect of full pits. This poses health risks.

In rural areas, exhausters may not be available. And even if they exist, operators may lack treatment plants where the waste is dumped. This can  mean excreta being emptied in rivers or other open spaces, resulting in environmental contamination.

Households can address this challenge by building two pit latrines, which can be used inter-changeably.

When one is full, you cover the hole and begin using the second one. After about three years, the waste will have undergone natural decomposition and can be safely scooped out to allow for the toilet to be used again.

Another alternative is to use commercial products with microorganisms, which besides  keeping the latrine fresh, continually breakdown the waste — at a fast rate — hence ensuring that the toilets never fill up.

Q: There have been many reports of pit latrines collapsing and causing deaths and injuries. How can the public avoid these accidents?

A: People should avoid building latrines in flood prone areas or within water courses where rainwater usually collects and flows.

Weak soil structures such those in sand or black cotton soils are unstable for latrines. In such areas, it is important to adequately reinforce pits during construction so as to make them strong. This can be achieved by lining the walls of the pits with bricks or blocks. 

Q: Sharing of latrines in informal settlements is a worrying trend for women in terms of safety and health. Comment.

A: In informal settlements, the cleanliness of toilets is not usually maintained due to the large volume of people sharing limited facilities. Such unhygienic conditions make women vulnerable to infections.

Sometimes, when toilets are located from residential houses and are  not well lit or secured, women are exposed to attacks including rape as they visit the toilet especially at night.

Toilets facilities should be gender friendly. For instance, men can stand while using the toilet but women need to squat. The design  of the facility should be ideal for both genders.

Q: What are the challenges we face as a country in achieving sustainable sanitation in informal settlements and other urban areas?

A: Informal settlements are not usually captured or represented in county physical plans. This makes it difficult for the government to put in place necessary sanitation infrastructure in such areas.

To tackle this challenge, the government can either relocate residents to formal settlements or find ways of formalising the settlements.

Q: How have centralised sanitation systems contributed to poor sanitation levels in the country.

A: Rural-urban migration has led to an influx of populations in cities and towns, hence increasing the for accommodation.

This rapid growth of housing units has put pressure on existing sanitation systems thus leading to burst sewer lines that are common in most urban estates. This calls for continuous review and upgrade of sanitation infrastructure to meet the growing demand for houses.

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