Thursday, November 19, 2009

The History of Pit Latrines in Uganda

By Esther Nakkazi

The history of the pit latrine in Uganda documentation starts in the 1950s when the colonialists started to promote sanitation and the chiefs enforced pit latrine construction and monitoring. 

At the time latrine coverage in Uganda was almost 100 percent. 

As a way to promote hygiene and sanitation, each household had to have a dish rack for drying the household cutlery, a bathing shelter for a bathroom, a pit latrine and a granary for food storage.

The pit latrine was built 30 meters away from the home and was 15-20 meters deep. The superstructure was made of mud and wattle; the slab was from hardwood timber. 

A shrub with soft, wide, sweet smelling leaves was planted near the pit latrine to be used as toilet tissue. 

I was born in the city and we had a flush toilet. When I visited my grandma (RIP -2015) as a child in the 80's I was surprised. Grandma's toilet was one such toilet and since I thought the two logs that separated to  give space to the pit was going to collapse any minute and I fall in the pit. 

I just cried. I was scared. My mother had to stand outside and assure me that she would hold me in case of anything. 

As I remember the toilet had a door made of reeds or bamboo that they could easily move to open and close!

Toilet matters were not discussed publicly and toilets had different names for the diverse people in Uganda. It it was unheard of to discuss poo in public and it was a taboo to talk about it during mealtimes. It still stands today.

All the materials used in the household hygiene and sanitation system were locally available. The pit latrine for the household with at least 10 members would last for 15-20 years.

After Uganda got independence in 1964, power shifted to the central government and there were no chiefs to enforce and monitor sanitation programs. 

The Public Health Act of 1964, with various sanitation and waste related ordinances or by-laws prepared by local government, were formulated.

As Uganda's population grew, rural urban migration set in and sanitation ceased to be a priority. A World Bank study, ‘Scaling up sanitation and hygiene in Uganda 2007’, shows a trend in latrine coverage with 98% coverage in the 1960s and going down to 45% and 20% in the1970’s and 1980s respectively.

The coverage was so bad at the time, amplified by the political turmoil and civil unrest. In 1974 the government enacted a new law that required each household to construct a pit latrine - 30 meters away from the house and 15 meters deep.

Even if the law was tough then with a fine of Shs. 20 (less than a $ cent today) or the head of the household getting arrested and tried by the village courts, many households defaulted on having pit latrines.

Increasingly in the rural areas, people got arrested and publicly got embarrassed about not having latrines but that did not change the attitude much. 

But even at the national level, there is sectoral fragmentation and sanitation is not a priority.

According to the World Bank, latrine coverage in Uganda today has stagnated at 60 percent since 2002. 

Studies also show that 75 percent of Uganda’s disease burden is preventable and linked to poor hygiene and inadequate sanitation facilities and practices.

The provision of sanitation is a key development intervention, which also improves an individual’s health, well being and economic productivity. 

At the household level, besides the well-known health outcomes of improved sanitation, there is increased comfort, privacy, convenience, and safety for women especially at night and for children, dignity, social status, and cleanliness.

Some organizations like Water For People-Uganda have introduced the EcoSan toilets, which if used properly can help with latrine coverage because they are low cost. 

I hope low-cost toilets come out of the innovations done by our innovators. Happy World toilet day! 

1 comment:

  1. Don't miss the Shoot-a-toilet photo contest that started on on the World Toilet Day.


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