Latrine Design: Lessons learned from the 2018 Summer Trip

During the student trip in June, Gemini, Sharon and Leigh from the University of Birmingham (UoB) latrine team travelled Eastern Cameroon to identify potential sites for the first public latrine, the design for which was developed in the 2016/17 academic year.

Guided by a local construction specialist they identified a site within Tongo, a busy market town in the north of the region, as the best location for the latrine. The village is visited by many traders and lorry drivers who currently use the residents’ facilities, existing public facilities, or use open areas which causes a public nuisance and threatens the health of locals and the quality of the local drinking water sources.

Through interviews with the locals in other villages it was found that each family, usually comprising up to fifteen people, did not favour communal latrines but preferred their own family latrines. Many families have two –one for women and children and another for men.  This arrangement is felt to offer more security; women and young girls feel safer in a private latrine and its cleanliness and general condition are under the direct control of the owners. It was concluded that, except where there is an appreciable transient population, there is no real demand for communal latrines from ordinary villagers.  This has led to a rethinking of the initial latrine design which aimed to provide public latrines for the use of all residents. The UoB design team will now focus on providing a public latrine for those travelling and stopping briefly in Tongo. This aims to improve the health of those using the facilities while protecting the water sources and reducing the number of visitors using local families’ latrines. Over the trip ideas were also generated to help encourage the implementation and use of the latrine designs such as incorporating a water seal to prevent the ‘black hole’ that frightens children and prevents their use of latrines.

While in Cameroon, the UoB team prepared sketches and mini-bills of quantities for three alternative designs of latrine to quantify the relative cost of different design options (see attached).  There were two designs for family latrines; one (1a) using concrete-ring liners to a relatively deep shaft, the other (1b) using a shallow, unlined pit with a hollow-pot cover slab, both with similar WC cubicles (either in blockwork or timber) on top.  The third (1c) was a larger variant of 1b, to allow several separate WC cubicles to be located on top of a single pit.  These sketches allowed comparative prices of the three schemes to be made by the preferred local contractor to help the team to choose a design to develop in detail. The prices returned by the preferred contractor were not clear enough for a final design to be chosen and therefore a return trip to Cameroon in December will resolve these issues. The design team will now work to develop a revised latrine design which will better meet the needs of different communities within the local region of Cameroon.