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LATRINE SYSTEMS IN HONDURAS 1 Summary of Report This report is the first part of a two-part document compiled by Peace Corps volunteers working in water and sanitation in Honduras. Its purpose is to analyze four types of latrines being constructed in this country (Pour Flush, Simple Pit, Ventilated Pit, and Compost latrines) and the process..


Summary of Report

    This report is the first part of a two-part document compiled by Peace Corps volunteers working in water and sanitation in Honduras. Its purpose is to analyze four types of latrines being constructed in this country (Pour Flush, Simple Pit, Ventilated Pit, and Compost latrines) and the process by which the latrine projects are implemented. The following is a brief outline of our conclusions.


    ; Pour Flush latrines are found to be inadequate and inoperable in many of the

    communities where they are installed.

    ; Simple Pit latrines create foul odors and are structurally un-sound in some soils.

    ; Simple Pit, Ventilated Pit, and Compost latrines lack an adequate seal to function


    ; Pour Flush, Simple Pit, and Ventilated Pit latrines all have a definite life span requiring

    continual replacement.

    ; Cultural barriers may exist impeding Compost latrine effectiveness.


    ; SANAA-PRASAR, MSP, and PLAN offer a limited choice of latrines when a variety of

    conditions require a variety of solutions.

    ; In most cases the presence of a water tap is the, only criteria used by SANAA-PRASAR,

    MSP, and PLAN when deciding the appropriateness of Pour Flush installation.

    ; SANAA-PRASAR, MSP, and PLAN generally promotes the Pour Flush as the "baiter" latrine

    creating a misperception by beneficiaries that the others are no good and fails to point

    out the comparative advantages and disadvantages of all latrines.

    ; Supervision with regard to the quality of housing structures is variable among promoters

    aid no clear policy is implemented by either of three agencies requiring housing


    ; SANAA-PRASAR, MSP, or PLAN to ensure that the latrines constructed are functioning

    and being used properly perform little or no follow-up.

    This report elaborates on the conclusions just drawn and what impacts they can have on the successfulness of a project. The second part of the document will offer solutions to the problems encountered in this report.

Background Information

Current Status

    Honduras is a country that suffers from extremely poor health standards, one of the worst in this hemisphere. To a great extent, the fault lies in an extremely inadequate sanitation infrastructure. In rural Honduras, which comprises approximately 60 percent of the country's population, sanitary disposal of waste is limited to 26 percent of the population. In five of eight health regions surveyed approximately 60 percent of the-rural population do not even use simple

     1 Source “Latrine Systems in Honduras; A problem Analysis”; produced by Water and Sanitation Volunteers and edited by Peace Corps Volunteer Coordinator Chris Bessenecker.

    latrines. As a result, enteric diseases are a leading cause of death, especially in five years olds (29 percent of all deaths). The majority of adults in rural areas suffer adverse health problems due to such poor sanitary conditions as well.

Agency Response

    The Government of Honduras (GOH), Private Development Organizations (PDO), and financial backing institutions such as U.S. Aid for International Development (LSAID) and the international Bank of Development (IBD) have taken a to pronged approach to combat this problem. The first approach has been to construct simple, economical waste disposal systems for individual dwellings. These have overwhelmingly taken the form of the Pour Flush latrine and the Simple Pit latrine, the latter, which is gradually being phased out where water is available. The second approach has been to construct small community water systems, which offer greater protection against fecal contamination. This document will concern itself with an evaluation of the first approach.

Peace Corps Involvement

    Peace Corps Honduras has supported Honduras in its sanitation efforts by providing technicians and engineers working under the auspices of the National Water and Sanitation Company's Rural Water and sanitation construction Projects (SANAA-PRASAR), the National Water and Sanitation Company's Rural Water and Sanitation Operation and maintenance Projects (SANAA-OMUR), the Ministry of Public Health (MSP), the Swiss funded Rural Well and Water Projects (PROPAR), Aldea Global and Foster Parents Plan International (PLAN) in the construction and supervision of water and sanitation systems. Since 1988, Peace Corps Honduras has placed 14 engineers and 30 technicians with these various agencies.

Inception of Document

    Over the years both formal and informal discussions have taken place among volunteers with regard to latrine design and policies implemented by the agencies we represent. As we are asked to live in the communities where we work, we are many times the first to hear of the problems encountered by community members, and often times held directly responsible for any system failures. Therefore, we feel sufficiently capable and justified in commenting on any weaknesses of policy and product that we have monitored and hope to offer positive, attainable solutions which will offer a more appropriate approach to sanitation for the people of Honduras.

    On July 5, 1991 a latrine committee WSS formed within Peace Corps Honduras to address this issue. The primary focus of the committee was to respond to three interrelated factors. They are interrelated because they all have a direct and cogent affect on the true level of sanitary waste disposal in Honduras. The first objective was to analyze the two types of latrines most commonly used in Honduras (Pour Flush, Simple Pit), and two alternative latrines also being used, although in smaller numbers (Ventilated Pit Latrines, Compost Latrine). The second objective was to analyze the numerous latrine housing structures and materials in use. The third objective was to assess MSP's, SANAA's, and PLAN's various policy approaches with regard to rural sanitation. The committee limited its assessments to these three agencies for two reasons. Most of PC/H water and sanitation volunteers are currently placed with these agencies and therefore these agencies have a direct affect on their work and what they do. With this in mind, if any changes are to be made in the way these volunteers work those changes must be institutionalized. Second, because PC has placed most water and sanitation volunteers with these agencies the committee had greater familiarity with their work and their policies.

    The tools that were used in the analysis were empirical data obtained from the sum of volunteers various experiences in over 8 different departments, a detailed latrine survey taken in communities where latrine projects have been completed anywhere between one and three years prior to the survey date, and the valuable input of the numerous agencies interviewed for the analysis.

    The committee convened for two days on August 10-11 at which time its purpose was outlined and a consensus formed on the strengths and weaknesses of the three before mentioned factors. The committee reconvened for two more days on September 21-22 to formulate improved latrine designs and community analysis methods. In addition, individual volunteers in executing house-to-house surveys and independent investigations and preparations for this document have invested numerous hours.

    We hope that this document will be well received by all agencies involved. We applaud all the agencies we work with in their tireless effort to combat a monumental barrier to good health whose importance has recently been underscored by the impending arrival of cholera. Our intent is only to contribute to their efficiency and effectiveness. We hope these documents will be a basis for active discussion in and among agencies on this issue with the objective of improving our service to this country. The following are the results of our work.

    Pour Flush Latrine

    The Pour Flush latrine is becoming one of the most commonly used latrines in Honduras. First introduced less than ten years ago it is now in high demand and the vast majority of agencies promotes it exclusively or coupled with the Simple Pit Latrine. The two major development-financing institutions, U.S. Aid for International Development and the International Bank of Development are primarily supporting this kind of waste disposal system. Within a four-year period USAID will finance the construction of 70,000 Pour Flush while IBD will finance 18,000.

    The advantages of a Pour Flush are numerous and widen used properly under satisfactory conditions it is probably the most hygienic latrine of the four. The unique feature of the Pour Flush is the cast porcelain bowl molded in such a way that it creates an impenetrable seal (of water) between the outside environment and the waste contents flushed to a sealed pit behind the latrine. This is quite effective in preventing bad odors from surfacing and reducing fly and mosquito populations, which are prime vectors of interim diseases. The smooth porcelain is easier to maintain clean and more comfortable than the rough cement seat of the Simple Pit. Because the pit lies behind the platform there is no fear of platform collapse with risk of injury. This component, along with the design of the bowl also ensures that there is no risk of small children falling in. The cost of a Pour Flush is considerably less than individual septic tanks or community sewage collection and containment systems, which basically serve the same function. There is also considerably less skill involved in their construction.

    One can be easily convinced by the statements above that this is by far an improvement over the standard pit privy that people are universally familiar with. However, the committee has encountered some very discerning information in regard to its effectiveness out in the field as the surveys indicate.


    From June through August 1991 five communities where Pour flush latrines were installed were surveyed in the departments of Atlántida, Yoro, Copán, and Ocotepeque. A total of 118 latrines that served over 700 beneficiaries were checked. The objective of the survey was to obtain data regarding whether or not these latrines were functioning. The latrines surveyed had been in use from one to four years. These latrines are usually promoted as lasting anywhere from five to ten years.

    What was discovered was that these latrines were failing at an alarming rate. This failure could be divided into three categories:

    a) Those latrines that were permanently inoperable failed for the following:

    ; Soil incapable of absorbing water.

    ; High water table.

    ; Pit collapse.

    ; No water on the premises

    b) Those latrines that were seasonally or intermittently inoperable failed by the following


    ; High water table (wet season).

    ; Low water quantity (dry season).

    c) Those latrines that were not used or not well maintained were due to the following


    ; Incomplete housing (missing roof, doors etc.).

    ; Housing structure damaged.

    ; No proper maintenance instruction given or followed.



    PERMANENT 30.50% 69.50%


    NOT USED/MAINTAINED 7.60% 92.40%

    In general there was a 41.60% functioning and 58.40% failed.

    There are many factors, which may render the Pour Flush latrine inoperable in Honduras:

    Soil: It was discovered during the investigation that many of these latrines did not even last one year. One of the biggest reasons for this failure has to do with the ill-suited characteristics of the soil. Much of the soil here consists of volcanic rock and or contains large clay deposits. Depending on the existence if fissured and sediment contents volcanic rock can have very high filtration or very low filtration. The only way to determine the rate is this case is through on site testing. Clays, however, are not absorbent, an important factor in the life of a Pour Flush. Although diversity can exist even within a ten-meter radius, generally the soil here displays poor filtration qualities. Deric Baoo, a British hydro geologist working with SANAA reaffirms this point. Even though no specific data exists on soil porosity or filtration he claims that the soil's transmisivity (sub-terrainian flow of water) is less than five cubic meters per day per squared meter-the lowest classification used. This coupled with a large number of users translates into an extremely short latrine life. In Honduras it is not uncommon to have households of 10 or more people.

    Water Table: Another factor (which has interfered with the effectiveness of the Pour Flush has been a high water table in some areas. Latrines had been rendered inoperable during the winter months and in some areas during the summer months because the water table had intersected at some level of the pit adding to its total volume, to the point where it had completely filled. Not only does this hinder the usage of the latrine but also presents a risk of contamination of water sources downstream from-the latrine. In loose soils this has caused the pit to collapse leaving the latrine permanently dormant.

    Water Supply: One of the most important elements of the Pour Flush is the need for water for its proper functioning. If the latrine cannot be flushed after every use it will not be hygienic and in fact can be a focal point of contamination. -Thus, in areas where piped water to individual homes does not exist this latrine is absolutely inappropriate. It is not uncommon however, especially during the dry summer months, to find communities with piped water systems that only function part of the day or a few days during the week. This can be due to a number of reasons. Perhaps the system design did not take into account the high water use necessary for the pour flush; many times it was not designed accounting for future growth: or perhaps the source simply cannot provide enough water to meet all demands. In such cases where people are forced to conserve or to make choices as to water use, proper latrine use is usually sacrificed for what is considered more immediate need such as cooking and washing. It has been rare to find a community where water has not had to be voluntarily or involuntarily rationed. If such cases where water does not continuously flow Pour Flush latrines tend to be poorly maintained and thus not a good choice.

    Behavior: As with any new technology, how it is used plays a major role in the effectiveness. For a technology to be most effective one must try to adapt it as much as possible to the conditions and customs those who are going to use it. On this level as well we have seen an

    inherent problem in the Pour Flush latrine. In many locations the latrine may be situated as far as six meters or more away from the water tap. To train seven children to wipe their nose with a handkerchief is a near impossible feat. So one should not be surprised that training seven children (or adults for that matter) to fill up a bucket of water, carry it to the latrine, flush it, and carry it back to the tap is at least difficult. Again, water and flushing is what makes these latrines more hygienic than the others. If these factors do not exist, these latrines provide no greater health benefit.

    Other Negatives: In those areas where the Pour Flush is inappropriate you are not only getting a dysfunctional latrine, you are paying more for it. Herb Caudill, water and sanitation engineer for USAID, states that they now pay $17.00 per porcelain bowl. If that bowl were to break, which is not uncommon, a family would have to pay around Lps.1OO.OO to replace it (not including the cost of installation). The cost of the bowl is high because it is a product that is imported. In addition, twice as much aggregate and cement are needed for Pour Flush construction as are needed for the Simple Pit latrine or Ventilated Pit latrine. Comparative price estimates by Agua

     show the Pour Flush in manufactured materials alone to cost L88.00 more than Para EI Pueblo

    the Simple Pit.

    Another recognized problem is the ease in modifying the Pour Flush to connect to public sewage systems. This is an obvious advantage if the raw sewage is treated or collected. However, in Honduras this is rarely the case. As in the case of PLAN Tegucigalpa and C.H.F. Pour Flush latrines are being erected in some communities with direct hook-ups to sewer lines which only serve to transport the untreated sewage to streams and rivers below. In areas where no sewer line exists, families on occasion have disconnected the PVC tube from the filled pit and extended it directly to a local stream or river.


    Until the advent of the Pour Flush latrine, the Simple Pit was the standard for latrine construction throughout Honduras. Due to somewhat lax guidelines this latrine has taken on many forms and levels of quality, although the basic concept lies remained the same.

    There are evident advantages to the Simple Pit latrine. For one, it functions completely without the use of water. In areas where no piped water exists it allows you to still have an effective means of waste disposal. In areas where piped water does exist in means that water can be conserved and used for other needs. It is a simple, quick, and economical way to dispose of waste and with the exception of the reinforcement rod is made of locally produced (in Honduras) materials. Soil porosity is not an immediate issue as raw waste volume in and or it is not that large (0.04-0.06 cubic meters per person per year). It is more space efficient than the Pour Flush, which can be a concern in some locations such as urban areas ('Interviews-Appendix) where yard space is limited. It is also simple to use since no flushing is involved.

    Nevertheless the Simple Pit Latrine has a number of flaws, which makes it at the least unpleasant and at the most unsanitary:

    No Seal: The Simple Pit constructed in Honduras lacks an airtight structural barrier

    between the pit and outside environment. It has not been equipped or designed to have

    a permanent lid. Most of the latrines assessed have nothing covering the stool, which sits

    directly over the pit or may have an inadequate or provisional lid such as a piece of board.

    This allows for an open passage that mosquitoes and flies can enter and leave freely

    carrying with them harmful bacteria found in human feces. The absence of any seal also

    means that one will be able to register the strong and displeasing odor caused by the

    excrement and urine. Although the odor has no affect on one's health, it certainly a makes the latrine's use unpleasant and inhibits some from using it. Certainly relieving oneself outside amongst the trees and fresh air is more appealing than the same activity over a rancid smelling pit.

    Fear of Falling: Substantiated or unsubstantiated, there exist a definite fear of platform collapse and/or small children falling through the stool. The committee speculates this in part is due to lack of quality control with regard to type of aggregate used and mixing ratios 1 during platform pouring. Coupled with the lack of supports under the platform (with the exception of an 8" rock and mortar rim) this makes the design structurally unsafe, especially in loose soils. It is possible for small children to fit through the hole raising fears among mothers that their child may fall in. Thus, many mothers prefer that their children defecate outside which only serves to promote a poor habit that many will continue as they grow older.

    Cleanliness: The Simple Pit is harder to keep clean than the Pour Flush. The principle reason for this is that the porcelain bowl of the Pour Flush with its smooth white enameled texture is much easier to clean and the difference more noticeable. The Simple Pit on the other hand has a gray, rough cement spoof which requires more scrubbing to keep clean. In addition, the lack of water use and larger fly and mosquito concentrations help to sustain an image of un-cleanliness.

    Typical Simple Pit Latrine Seat

    Discomfort: To add to the other un-pleasantries of the Simple Pit latrine, the spoof which Is made from a dry mortar mix compacted into an iron mold leaves a rough and gritty exterior disagreeable to the average individual who sits on it. In comparison, the Pour Flush porcelain bowl, which is smooth and shaped to conform to the persons body, is much more appealing.

    Definite life span: Although the simple pit tends to leave a longer life than the pour flush in Honduras it will eventually fill up rendering it inoperable. This usually happens in a period of five to ten years.

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