A couple of weeks ago, Griffin and I traveled up north to Pajule, a town about two and a half hours outside of Gulu. Erin Morrison, another Peace Corps volunteer who lives in this town, works with a women’s group, and a set of Eco-San (short for Ecological Sanitation) latrines are being installed at the women’s meeting center. Erin asked us to come up so that I could talk to the women about the latrines, explaining the benefits of using them, how they work, and how to operate them. Of course, the people in the north speak Acholi, which is completely different than Luganda. While I am certainly not fluent in Luganda, my knowledge of Acholi consists of about one word. Fortunately, one of Erin’s coworkers did a wonderful job translating for me. Eco-San latrines operate differently than the pit latrines that are commonly used throughout Uganda. Pit latrines are, essentially, deep pits in the ground, covered by a platform containing a relatively small hole. Human excrement goes through the hole and, over time, slowly fills the pit. Unfortunately, in some cases, groundwater can be contaminated by these deep pits, and, when a pit is full, another one must often be dug. Eco-San latrines provide one solution to both of these issues. In general, they are constructed completely above the ground, and the excrement falls into a sealed chamber, which can be emptied periodically. To ensure that the excrement is safe and free of pathogens when the chamber is emptied, materials like wood ash and sawdust are added every time the latrine is used. These materials help to create a dry, high pH environment that is hostile to many types of pathogenic organisms, and, after a certain period of time, the excrement can be removed safely.
Once the material is free of harmful organisms, it can be viewed as a resource instead of a waste product. Human excrement contains large amounts of several valuable nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and it can be used very effectively as an agricultural fertilizer. Eco-San latrines, in addition to providing a safe and sustainable sanitation option, can also produce a valuable resource and contribute to improved food security. For all of these reasons, we are in the process of planning an Eco-San pilot project with some of our partner schools. We hope to work with each school to install and successfully operate a small number of these latrines, focusing especially on education and social acceptance of the technology within the community.
John talking with the women's group
Griffin, John, and the women in front of the Eco-San latrine (still under construction)