How can rice sacks help prevent diarrhoea?

By Mahasoa Lahatse, Health Education and WASH Specialist, Velondriake, Madagascar

It makes us, the Safidy community health team of Blue Ventures, happy to share with you this short story about sand-bag latrines. This story takes place in our village of Andavadoaka, where Blue Ventures works. Andavadoaka is a small seaside village in the southwest of Madagascar, situated in the district of Morombe and the commune of Befandefa.

In the course of doing community health work here, we have seen that many people do not use latrines. Rather, people defecate either in the forest or on the beach. This causes easy transmission of diseases, especially diarrhoea, seriously endangering people’s health. It is for this reason that we have helped the community establish a Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) committee. The committee is enacting and supporting various initiatives to keep the beach and the village clean, but people are finding it very difficult to dig and build their own latrines because of the extremely sandy conditions in this region. The committee is therefore looking for solutions to the sanitation problems facing our community, in partnership with the whole village and Blue Ventures. 

Making the small sacks
Making the small sacks

In the spirit of looking for locally appropriate solutions, we together piloted a sand-bag latrine construction method in November 2013, with members of the CLTS committee and local youth clubs. The reason for trialling this type of latrine was that the materials are widely available and relatively affordable in Andavadoaka and other local villages, and this design is very simple and easy to construct. It doesn’t require an engineer or a technician, but can be done by everyone. Not only that, but in only a week, the entire latrine can be completed from start to finish, even with just 3-6 people working on it.

We decided to build this pilot sand-bag latrine alongside Blue Ventures’ new conservation and research centre – meeting two needs in one. As this latrine is to be used by many people, we created a latrine larger and deeper than would be necessary for a typical family. We therefore used 115 standard rice sacks for this pilot, which were cut and sewn into smaller tubes to make 230 small sacks. A hole was dug 3 meters deep with a surface area of 3 meters, in a cone shape to improve the strength of the structure. After digging the hole, we recognised that the final result was much larger than what would be needed by families in the community.

Making the small sacks
Making the small sacks

After sewing the rice sacks into tubes, a mixture of sand and cement was filled into each sack until they were 80% full. The sacks were then sewn shut so that the extra space would help them lay flat when placed in the pit. We placed them one-by-one along the edges of the pit starting from the bottom, slowly working up the walls in a circular and overlapping pattern, like laying bricks, with each one pounded into place.

Passing the sacks into the pit
Passing the sacks into the pit
Lining the pit
Lining the pit

Finally, the above-ground structure was built using local and inexpensive materials such as wood planks and thatch.

The completed latrine
The completed latrine

The importance of using this method to build a latrine here, rather than just digging a pit, is that we live in an area of extremely sandy soil so there is a serious risk that the latrine could collapse if it is not reinforced well. Other methods to build latrines in such soil would be prohibitively expensive, requiring large amounts of cement, rebar and the work of skilled technicians. We have seen from this trial that it is simple and easy to construct a strong, durable and long-lasting latrine with the sand-bag method, and there is nothing to fear in building or using it!

Caroline, Safidy programme coordinator, inside the new latrine
Caroline, Safidy programme coordinator, inside the new latrine

This is a major step in helping us to make our village more clean and healthy. We can win against diarrhoea in our community! These results has made us happy because this is an option for going to the bathroom in peace. We do not need to check that nobody can see us, we can stop worrying about our privacy and being embarrassed that we’ll be seen. (This is particularly important here where there are taboos, or fadys, about seeing family and relatives in such a way.) And, it’s not just the people that can benefit from this. The environment  – both marine and terrestrial – also benefits.

I wish to thank the community, the CLTS committee, Blue Ventures, and even the design of the sand-bag latrine itself, for helping to save our community from diarrhoea. I hope that many people will begin to build sand-bag latrines now, and I will be here to help build them and train anyone who is interested. Long live the sand-bag latrine!!

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