Notes from the Field: Healthier Communities Through Composting Latrines

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

composting pit latrine base
The base of a new composting latrine and of a healthier community!

Five families – a total of 20 individuals – received a new dry composting latrine in El Porvenir, El Salvador, thanks to a generous grant of $3,100 from Catapult supporters.

Eliminating common pit latrines means cleaner groundwater and a more hygienic conditions in the home, leading to a lower disease burden in these communities. The latrines were built in collaboration with the beneficiaries, who provided rock for the foundation, cement mortar, and sweat equity during the construction of the latrine.

Furthermore, the local municipality donated the pre-fabricated concrete slab floor and the molded concrete toilet seat, while TWP provided the cement blocks, the wooden frame for the structure of the bathroom, the metal sheet for the walls and roof, and the vent pipes. Funds were also used to hire skilled laborer, to supervise the construction, and to train families in use and maintenance of the latrine.

Risks and challenges

Having managed international development projects for over 15 years in Central America and the Caribbean, Trees, Water & People is no stranger to risk and challenges in our work. However, our unique methodology of requiring a community cost-share and sweat equity from beneficiaries increases investment and involvement from all stakeholders, and thus increases our odds of implementing projects with lasting benefits.

building latrine_Colonia Izaguirre Tegucigalpa
Construction of new composting latrines

The biggest risk in this case, mitigated by experience and close supervision by Trees, Water, and People implementors, is building the structure in compliance with El Salvador’s Health Ministry standards for composting latrines.

Due to the community’s organization and cooperation, the project was completed before deadline, all families are 100% switched over to their new latrine, and the old pit latrines have been filled for the last time.

Up Close

new latrine composting pit latrine
A new composting pit latrine

I had a chance to visit a prior installation of 10 dry composting latrines in this region of El Salvador, and the testimonies and tangible signs of change were palpable.

This region is tropical and volcanic, with regular seismic activity, episodes of torrential rains and a high water table. During big rain events, the ground gets completely saturated, and all pit latrines are flooded, leaching excrement and pathogens onto open land, into agricultural fields, and into drinking water supplies.

The structures that conceal the conventional latrines are typically a few torn bedsheets, shower curtains or cardboard, and people are often ashamed to show them to you. In contrast, all latrines I saw were kept very tidy and odor free, and people were extremely proud to show them off. From looking at the images attached to this report, you can see why this is such an important change to people’s lives.

Next steps

The five latrines that we set out to build with Catapult funds have been completed and are in full use. We are continuing to coordinate with the municipality about additional households we could serve with the same methodology, and are actively looking for donors to support this important work.

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Trees, Water & People is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to developing sustainable community-based conservation solutions.

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