Building flood-resilient latrines brick by brick

Date: 26th February 2020

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After ODF, Kenyan households benefit from improved latrines during heavy rains

By Kevin Mwanza

BUSIA, Kenya – Heavy rains in western Kenya nearly spelled tragedy for a man in the county of Busia last November when the floor slab of a public pit latrine collapsed while he was inside. Fortunately, he managed to climb out of the pit, albeit with minor bruises, said Busia Deputy County Public Health Officer, Mr Wilfred Magoba.

“We are realizing that although the majority of the households have toilets, they are not the type we should encourage,” said Mr Magoba. “Some of them are dilapidated and others are collapsing during the rainy season.”

Busia County, home to some 893,000 people, borders Lake Victoria and Uganda. In 2015, it became the first county in Kenya to be declared open defecation free (ODF).

For years, Busia has been inundated by floods in some parts during the heavy rains, leading to loss of homes and properties. In 2019, Kenya’s short rains were heavier than expected, with warming oceans causing unpredictable weather patterns in East Africa as warned by researchers.

According to Mr Magoba, the fact that Busia became ODF has helped it avoid waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery that were previously common during rainy seasons.

“At the same time, some of the toilets in the county collapsed as the East Africa region experienced more than expected rains in late 2019,” Mr Magoba said. “Now we are trying to improve the latrines, and we appreciate the support we get from partners like Amref.”

Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) efforts employed since 2010 by the government, with the support of several sector partners including Amref Health Africa, helped sensitize households on the benefits of having a toilet and enabled them to obtain sanitation facilities through cost-effective means.

Through the Kenya Sanitation and Hygiene Improvement Programme (K-SHIP), which is funded by WSSCC’s Global Sanitation Fund, Amref and its implementing partners continue to improve the sustainability of the toilets in Busia by training community health volunteers on sanitation marketing and artisans on the use of interlocking bricks to construct improved facilities.

Sanitation marketing

“As a department, we have now started to educate the community on how to improve the site before a structure is built up. Like we are now advising, where the soil appears to be so loose, the pit has to be lined before the slab is placed and construction commences,” said Mr Magoba.

Reducing the cost of sanitation improvements has been the focus for K-SHIP.

The program moved to improve the basic toilets through an income-generating model whereby local youth groups and community units would be provided with brick-making machines, popularly known as ‘makiga,’ to press interlocking bricks that could be sold at a fee.

The K-SHIP model of presenting sanitation as a business in the community has proved to be a cost-effective approach, making latrines much more affordable than previous efforts.

“When we compared the cost of the two latrines, we found that the cost of the interlocking bricks was lower. The interlocking brick model uses locally-available materials, less cement and fewer person-days for construction. The systems also have a longer lifespan since they are exhaustible.” said Denis Langat, Samia Sub-County WASH Coordinator.

“Some of the restrooms in Samia have been collapsing because of the rain burden. The good thing is that none of the latrines that are built using the interlocking brick technology have collapsed,” he added.

Brick business

Demand for makiga bricks now outstrips supply, according to Benedict Ochwada, leader of the Luchululo Community Unit in Samia, making the business sustainable enough to become a source of livelihood for members of his group.

“What many people wanted before was any latrine. But as the rains came, they discovered they needed something that can last, and are now looking to build latrines with interlocking bricks,” said Ochwada.

Groups such as Luchululo work with Amref-trained artisans who have skills on how to construct an improved toilet using designs and measurements that ensure it is long-lasting and can withstand adverse weather conditions, according to Mr Langat.

According to Mr Magoba, collapsing toilets have forced some families to use their neighbour’s facilities or latrines in public institutions such as schools, while others have decided to build new toilets.

Boniface Nadiaga, 71, living in Kimenye Village, Samia, is one of those who decided to construct a new latrine using interlocking bricks plus a better exhaustion system, despite having built one using regular bricks five years earlier.

“I’m not worried when the rains come because I know my new toilet will not be affected. If the old one collapses, the new one I built using interlocking bricks will still be there. I feel good about that,” Mr Nadiaga said.

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