Several years ago, Marta Alicia Orellana of El Porvenir, El Salvador had invested in building a formal latrine at her home, but due to a lack of finances it was never finished. As the base and the walls deteriorated, she found herself using shower curtains around the latrine for privacy, but risked “exposing her physical and moral integrity” daily due to the poor state of her family’s bathroom.
When Trees, Water & People and the Mayor’s office of El Porvenir announced another round of latrine donations, she quickly put her name on the list. She now says she feels more secure having reduced risk of contamination for her family and for those who visit her home, and shows off her new latrine proudly.
How does a dry composting latrine work?
The dry compost latrines consist of two chambers made of concrete cinder blocks with a toilet seat, including urine diverter, placed over each of the chambers. After each use, stove ash, compost, and/or sawdust is added inside the chamber to reduce odors and keep the chamber dry. It also includes a vent to allow fresh air to circulate and further dry the solid matter. After one chamber is filled it is left to dry during six to eight month periods while the second chamber is in use. The contents of the first chamber are then transformed into a rich fertilizer that can be used on surrounding crops or trees after a drying period under the sun and mixed with a 1:1 ratio of earth. One dry composting latrine can serve families of more than six people for over 10 years with proper maintenance.
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, flooding traditional pit latrines, which then leach excrement and pathogens onto open land, into agricultural fields, and into drinking water supplies. Replacing these common pit latrines with composting latrines means cleaner groundwater and a more hygienic conditions in the home, leading to a lower disease burden in these communities.