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Pit latrine case histories

Tried and tested ways to improving pit latrine problems

The design concepts, basic construction and treatment protocols are common to types of pit latirnes, but like everything else, are only effective if the persons using the toilets observe common sense hygiene.

Case history 1 - fruit farm

We have a client who produces table fruit for the export market. They run an extensive farming operation with vineyards and fruit trees, both of which need pruning in winter and harvesting in summer. Many of the staff are migrants who are bussed in from distant rural locations and accommodated in a well-constructed and fully facilitated village – complete with school, crèche, church, clinic, community hall and shops. There are married quarters for the families and singles hostels, with a canteen, for the single workers. All well run, clean and tidy.

CH: pit latrine farm

The fruit farm

As exporters of fresh table fruit, buyers from the overseas retailers – mostly from Europe – call to inspect the crop and the way in which it is handled every year. This is important to the retailer who must ensure, by law, that the goods their chain offer for sale are produced under conditions of acceptable international standards (ISO standards).

A few years back one inspector, more than satisfied with the messing and living arrangements on the fruit farm, expressed concern at the lack of daytime toilet facilities for the workers in the field. There were no formal on-site toilets nor anywhere they could wash their hands. BIO-SYSTEMS SA was asked to assist – we already looked after the farms septic tanks and a small package plant with
its reed bed.

We specified either:

  1. Tractor drawn mobile twin cubicle field toilets, which would move with the workers as they progressed from orchard to orchard; or
  2. Pit latrines with hand-washing facilities fed from the irrigation network.


As farm management need many hands to harvest, and half that number to prune and 'train' twice a year, the pit toilet option proved to be the most economical for them.

We then went to work and designed a simple structure, which their workshops could make up on site. They used their back hoe to open up the pits at the pre-destined places in the field – one for men, two for women (women make up 75% of the workforce) – and the thirty something toilets were commissioned within a month. They seeded each pit (approximately 1m3) with 50g of BIO-SYSTEMS PLR Bulk and all went well for the first half of the year. However, after a few months, the interior of the cubicles became untidy and began to smell. The section manager of one of the 'blocks' asked our advice (we are always available to discuss client problems) and we suggested a solution that had worked well for other large clients (on the mines).

We advocated that they found a strong willed member of staff with a loud mouth and appoint him PLO (Permanent Latrine Orderly). His job: to keep the cubicles clean and tidy and to 'dose' the pits as usage demanded. It worked! In fact, it worked very well - and woe betide any worker who left the toilet in a mess! Initially, the PLO dosed 100ml of BIO-SYSTEMS L2120 into each pit, increasing to 150ml in harvesting season, and scrubbed the floor and seat with BIO-SYSTEMS HSDG. Odour became negligible. Every six to nine months, he added a further 25g of BIO-SYSTEMS PLR Bulk, which reactivated the biomass.

Needless to say the workers made good use of the field toilets (policed ardently by the PLO) and the inspector expressed his satisfaction when he called a year later.

Case history 2 - municipal informal settlement

A large metropolis had problems with housing the influx of rural work seekers. There being no formal housing available, they were allowed to set up an 'informal settlement' on the periphery of the city, paying nominal rent to a farmer for the occupation of non-agricultural land. Unable to provide services to the suddenly mushrooming village, we were requested by the city to assist with inoculating the hastily erected pit toilets.

CH: pit latrines cubicle

Settlement with 'typical' corrugated iron pit latrines

The pit toilets were in a really terrible condition. This was due partly to the fact that there was no site discipline and partly as a result of the slum conditions in which the people found themselves – there was no running water or electricity.

The pits were nearly brim full of faecal solids and emitted a terrible sewage odour. Flies were also a problem as the metal walls and roofs of the iron shacks raised the air temperatures inside the cubicles, making the problem even worse. We advocated treating each pit with 100g of BIO-SYSTEMS PLR Bulk, pre-soaked in buckets of dirty water then tipped into the pit and stirred with a strong stick to distribute the added liquid through the pasty mass of sewage sludge. A further 250ml of BIO-SYSTEMS L2120 was then added to each pit an hour later.

CH: pit latrines before and after

Pit latrine after biological innoculation

Over a period of four weeks, there was a noticeable improvement in the appearance of the faecal solid build-up as well as the odour, which had recessed almost completely within the first three days.

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