UMCOR’s team explains the design of the steel latrine frame to residents of a camp for internally displaced people in East Darfur State.
Promoting Hygiene, Saving Trees in Sudan
By Julia Kayser*
June 22, 2012—UMCOR has been helping to improve the living conditions of internally displaced persons, or IDPs, in East Darfur State, Sudan, since 2008. These people have been forced to leave their homes due to extreme violence and the degradation of their farmland. With support from USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), UMCOR works with residents of IDP camps to help them increase their leadership capacity, build schools, access water and shelter, promote hygiene, and build latrines.
In this part of Sudan, the construction of latrines is a challenge. Non-renewable resources typically are used to build these structures, including wood poles to make the frames. Grass mats are hung over the poles for privacy. Because there are very few fully grown trees in this area, every latrine that is built uses the wood of 16 small trees, which have to be cut down.
“UMCOR constructs up to 2,500 latrines annually, resulting in about 40,000 trees cut each year,” writes Cephas Munjeri, manager of UMCOR’s Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) projects in Sudan. Due to the harsh climate, many of the latrines have to be replaced every year. Cutting down so many trees is a huge strain on an already struggling natural environment. The Sahara Desert is believed to be spreading rapidly south, and insufficient rains increase the degradation of the land. Desertification is worse in areas that are highly populated, including IDP camps.
How can we respect both the environment and the inhabitants of it, UMCOR Sudan’s WASH team asked. Led by Munjeri, they came up with an innovative and environmentally friendly latrine design that is inexpensive, durable, and does not require lumber.
Instead of wood, it uses steel to create the frame. Steel is readily available and inexpensive in East Darfur State—in fact, people already use it to make most of their household furniture. The steel frame is made of 10-millimeter twisted iron bar; one half meter of the structure is anchored in the ground, and concrete is poured at each of the four corners. This fixes the frame in place and deters theft, repurposing, or resale of the metal. The steel frame is then covered with grass mats, plastic sheeting, or even millet or sorghum straws.
In 2011, UMCOR piloted this latrine design in El Neem IDP Camp, home to 13,500 uprooted families. “Education on the use, maintenance, and care of these steel frames was conducted for the community before, during, and after the latrines were introduced,” writes Munjeri. “The design was well received.” UMCOR plans to continue to use this new latrine design in El Neem Camp and other locations in East Darfur State.
Each steel-frame latrine costs about $10 more to build than a wood-frame latrine, but the benefits far outweigh the costs. Because steel is not damaged by weather, there is no need to replace these new latrines every year, so they actually save money. In fact, once one latrine pit is full, the steel frame and concrete base can be dug up and moved to a new location. Finally, steel latrine frames do not contribute to desertification.
Through this innovative design, UMCOR is working to care for both the environment and the people of Sudan.
Your gift to Sudan Emergency, UMCOR Advance #184385 can help.
*Julia Kayser is a writer and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.