By Esther Nakkazi
The History of Pit Latrines
The history of the pit latrine in Uganda is quite bizarre. Its documentation starts in the 1950’s when the colonialists started to promote sanitation and the chiefs enforced pit latrines construction and monitored them.
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 storing food.
The pit latrine was built 30 metres away from the home and was 15-20 metres deep. The super structure was made of mud and wattle; the slab was from hard wood timber. A shrub with soft, wide, sweet smelling leaves was planted near the pit latrine to be used as toilet tissue.
Toilet matters were not discussed publicly and toilets had different names for the diverse people in Uganda, it was unheard of to discuss poo in public and it was a taboo t talk about it at meal times. It still is until today.
“When you grow with pit latrines – you cannot talk about feaces when you are eating. It is a taboo,” said Ronald Mugisa- executive director, Foundation for Rural Development (FORUD), a not for profit organization promoting the use of EcoSan toilets in western Uganda.
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 programmes. The Public Health Act of 1964, with various sanitation and waste related ordinances or by-laws prepared by local government were formulated.
As the years got by, the 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 1960’s and going down to 45% and 20% in the1970’s and 1980’s 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 metres 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 get arrested and publicly embarrassed for not having latrines. But even at the national level there is sector 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.
If EcoSan toilets are used there are also reduced accidents, increased property value, increased rental income and reduced fertilizer costs (ecological sanitation). This makes business sense and it is what Water For People-Uganda partly hopes to achieve in its sanitation for business programmae. It can be promoted today on World Toilets Day!.