Troubleshooting toilets in Africa

Engineers Marte Wigen Nilsson (Multiconsult), Richard Kringlebotten (Norconsult) and Mats Kahlström (NGI) visited Nyenga during a mission for Engineers Without Borders Norway. The article below is from the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute’s webpage, ngi.no.

Working on a voluntary mission for Engineers Without Borders Norway (IUG) in rural Uganda, Mats from NGI helped improve sanitary conditions through an impromptu workshop for local contractors. A straight flush, it turned out.

It is in our nature as engineers, scientists and specialists at NGI to be curious and to find solutions to problems we encounter – wherever they may be. Being on a field mission in a village in south-eastern Uganda on behalf of Engineers Without Borders Norway (IUG), one NGI colleague got to deal with issues that directly affected the way people lived, their health and their wellbeing.

In July, Mats Kahlström, who works at the Onshore Foundations section at NGI Oslo, spent two weeks in Nyenga, Uganda, working on issues related to water, sanitation and hygiene. Mats quickly realised that solving a problem does not always require technical intervention.

“My colleague and I had spent several days inspecting, among others, the pit latrines at the Nyenga Children’s Home. We noticed several design flaws that could be distinguished on all latrines, regardless of which contractor that had constructed it. After highlighting our findings it was suggested that we should organise a small workshop with the local contractors so that we could share our findings and propose some modifications to the pit latrine design”, explains Mats.

A breath of fresh air, please

The main issue on the pit latrines was the design and placement of the ventilation pipe. The purpose of the ventilation pipe is to mitigate odour problems and to provide fly control, prohibiting the escape of flies breeding in the pit. As Mats and his colleague discovered during their inspection, the current ventilation pipes did neither of those things. Under the shade of a roof at the Children’s Home in Nyenga, aided by a translator, Mats and his colleague proposed an alternative method of installing the ventilation pipe to a group of local contractors.

“Everyone agreed that smelly latrines were a problem, and the contractors showed an interest in trying to mitigate this issue. We concluded that the pipe would now include a fly mesh to prevent flies from escaping as well as guidelines on dimensions and placement. We also talked about airflow through the super-structure, and discussed alternative placements of the latrines on the property in order to improve airflow. The local contractors really appreciated the information we provided”, says Mats.

It seemed as if no one had ever explained to the local contractors how to construct a proper pit latrine, or why it should have a ventilation pipe, and they really appreciated the information and help provided by Mats and the IUG team. Knowledge and experience transfer is a great tool to create sustainable and lasting change – even for the smallest and most mundane of problems, wherever they may be.

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