Eco-Toilet Benefits a Rural Ugandan Community

Our organization has been working in East Africa for nearly 12 years now. During our time spent in the region, we have become aware of a multitude of illnesses and even deaths surrounding the construction and utilization of toilets. In the regions where we work, the typical toilet is a pit latrine. These pits are dug about 30 feet into the ground, a very dangerous process for anyone involved. Once these pits are filled (a process of about 20 years), families will simply have to start the process again, digging and filling another pit--which is difficult to do if your land plot is small. The safety of these structures is very minimal, with some children dying from falling in the hole. There is little protection from insects, odors, and disease. Eco-toilets (or composting toilets) are much easier (and safer) to build. They are also more feasible economically, do not take up as much space, and are safer from disease. Eco-toilets require no water, a great option in a place with limited water supply and no waste treatment facilities. Instead, eco-toilets capture nutrients in human excreta as humanure. Human excrement is covered with sawdust and ash to support aerobic processing, absorb liquids, and reduce odor. Rapid aerobic composting consists of thermophilic decomposition in which bacteria that thrive at high temperatures break down the waste into its components, some of which are consumed in the process, reducing volume, and eliminating potential pathogens. As opposed to the pit latrines, eco-toilets protect groundwater from nutrient or pathogen contamination and provide optimal nutrient recycling.

This last summer, two of our development workers (Josh Kurtz and Cameron Kagay), began thinking about constructing an eco-toilet on Lawrence Ssemakula’s land. His family had been sharing a toilet with a neighbor, and because their land plot was very small, did not have the space to dig a pit latrine. After educating Ssemakula about eco-toilets, he began asking us when we were going to help him build one! After helping in the construction and studying the process, Ssemakula now is the proud owner of the first eco-toilet in his village. Below he shares an update on the toilet, 6 months out from its construction.

This is a view of the eco-toilet from the back and side. The structure was constructed with local materials.

This is a view of the eco-toilet from the back and side. The structure was constructed with local materials.

Making a toilet can be such a tough task--not only manually, but also financially. Here in Uganda digging a pit latrine is quite expensive. Each foot can range between 3000-4000 Uganda Shillings. [This equals approximately $1.50 per foot. Keep in mind that 37% of Ugandans live below the international poverty line of less than $1.25 per day.] As if that is not enough, the construction materials are expensive too. The deep pit is also such a huge threat to human life among other things.

Today my family is enjoying the benefits of an eco-toilet. The structure has held up so perfectly, withstanding all weather conditions. The toilet has no bad odors. Recently we noticed three days of bad odor but discovered that we realized we hadn’t been balancing the wood chips and the ash well enough. There are completely no bugs. Our eco-toilet is accessible to a disabled person, as it is a sit-down toilet. [African toilets are typically squatting toilets that can be very difficult for handicapped people. Ssemakula has a specific burden for disabled members of his society, so this was important to him.]

My family adjusted pretty fast to this toilet. One can only be bothered during cold days and mornings when the seat is cold. This toilet has been a blessing to us and now we wait for the time we shall shovel out the manure for the garden. Quite a number of people have been asking us many questions about the toilet and we have been educating others, including the town council and health inspectors. They liked it for its hygienic conditions, cost effectiveness, that it was environmentally friendly and consumed limited space. This is a good option for people of Bombo Town, Uganda, and other areas like it.

Written by Lawrence Ssemakula