Innovation at Work: Plastic Latrine Slabs Address Ghana’s Sanitation Challenges

USAID WASH for Health Project Providing Improved Sanitation to Households with Disabilities 

Anani AbeenaAnani Abeena, a 54-year-old farmer with five children, never knew owning a household latrine could be so easy. Like the most of the other 643 people of Taviefe Dzefe, a community located about 23 Kilometers from Ho, the capital of the Volta Region, the only available options for defecation is out in the open, or at a communal pit latrine.

Global Communities, through the USAID-funded WASH for Health Project, is providing plastic latrines to people with disabilities. Anani, who has difficulty walking and uses a cane for support, explains that the challenge of not having a household latrine is particularly difficult in the evening and when the rains come because he and his family had no choice but to defecate in polythene bags at home and dispose of them in their refuse container because the pit latrine is very far from their house. Anani added that though there are local artisans who could help him construct a latrine, he could not afford to pay them. He was also deterred by the daily maintenance required to keep a latrine hygienic and clean, knowing his own neighbors seemed to have difficulty with the upkeep: “There are [a] few household latrines around, but considering the bad odor and the number of flies that hover around them, that did not encourage me either,” he says.

Anani is not alone in these challenges. Currently, just 15 percent of Ghanaians have access to improved sanitation facilities. Though this is an increase since 1990, when only seven percent of the population had access, there is opportunity for further improvement. Through the five-year, WASH for Health Project, Global Communities has been working to increase and improve access to water and sanitation, and improve hygiene behaviors in 30 districts throughout Ghana. Since February 2015, WASH for Health has worked with communities to install over 6,400 improved household latrines, providing more than 51,200 people with access to basic sanitation services. These efforts have been made possible, in large part, through the interactive, community-led total sanitation (CLTS) technique, which educates communities on hygiene practices, and supports them in their efforts to acquire household latrines and become certified as “open defecation free” (ODF). WASH for Health has supported more than 248 communities in acquiring ODF status and aims to have over 600 communities throughout Ghana certified by 2020.

However, Anani and other Ghanaians like him are still faced with significant challenges to acquiring a latrine at home. The typical technologies available in Ghana require technical assistance, cement and other materials, time and resources. It can take up to three weeks to construct a latrine, if all materials are available, and often requires the added cost of skilled labor. For communities that often live on less than $2 dollars a day, the cost can be prohibitive. In order to make household latrines more accessible, WASH for Health Chief of Party, Alberto Wilde, designed a plastic latrine slab- the Digni-Loo- that is affordable, easy to install, durable, easy to maintain, visually attractive and reusable. In partnership with a private Ghanaian company, Duraplast Ghana Limited, and with the support of the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources and USAID, WASH for Health has been piloting the product in select districts around the country. The latrine costs approximately $80 USD (330 GHC), comparatively cheaper than a concrete slab, and takes about 10 minutes to install. Once purchased, a household need only dig a pit near their home, install the latrine  (which has an adjustable plastic lining to reinforce weak pits), attach the plastic vent pipe, and construct privacy walls. When a pit is full, the latrine slab is easily removable; the hole is covered and the slab is re-installed in a new location. It requires very little water and is easy to keep clean. Since developing the slab, 62 latrines have been installed in 41 communities in 13 Districts of the five project Regions in Ghana.

Anani and many others who have received the slab are pleased with the technology and the changes it has brought to them and their families.  “This plastic slab is fast to install and use. It is easy to clean, flies do not disturb and there is no bad scent,” he says. WASH for Health is also working with local sales agents at the grassroots levels, building their capacity to ensure the long-term sustainability of the Digni-Loo as a resource for communities. In the coming months, Global Communities will continue working with government, private sector and community partners to make the plastic slabs available to all Ghanaians.

Stella’s Story: A Plastic Latrine Makes Life Easier 

Stella“Plastic is the best!” Gladys Dasi exclaims. Plus, “when it’s full it can be removed and put in another place. Her younger brother, Tornyie chimes in saying, “the appearance is attractive-it’s nice to look at, and digging the hole for it is so easy.”

In March, WASH for Health provided a plastic latrine slab- the Digni-Loo- to Madam Stella Adzonyo and her family, including Gladys and Tornyie. Stella is unable to walk and uses a wheelchair to get around. Every time she needs to relieve herself, she has to wheel herself out to the bush. As a woman with limited mobility, the journey is treacherous and requires that she push herself over uneven, rocky terrain, often at the risk of tipping over and falling out of her chair. This has happened to her in the past and it’s very difficult to get help when she falls. When she has found a place that is private enough to do her business, she worries that someone may come upon her, or that she’ll be bit by a snake.   The experience is all together quite difficult and time consuming, as it can take almost 30 minutes to travel out and back.  

A few months ago, Stella’s community, Hwakpo, in the Ada West District of the Greater Accra Region, was targeted to receive WASH for Health’s Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) intervention. As a result her household constructed two traditional Ventilated Improved Pit Latrines (VIPs) and changed their behavior towards Open Defecation. “Now,” Stella explains, “there is a total change in the community: no diseases. And we’ve also got a tippy tap, we are free of all sanitation issues in the community.” In support of these improved sanitation behaviors, Stella and her household was identified as a beneficiary for the installation of the plastic latrine slab. The innovation, developed by Global Communities/Ghana’s Country Director, Alberto Wilde, as part of the USAID-funded WASH for Health project, is a new latrine technology that is easy to install, durable, visually appealing, easy to keep clean and reusable. The plastic slab also utilizes additional plastic cylinders that stack up, in order to line pits that require a bit more reinforcement.  

Madam Stella and her family have already constructed the privacy walls surrounding their new latrine, and are pleased to be able to use something so attractive every day. And, now, since it only takes a few moments to wheel herself to the facility, she has some more time to rest. 

Chief James Receives a Plastic Latrine

Chief JamesJames Kwabla Adamani is the Chief of Odokorkope, a community in Ada West District, and today, Global Communities, through the USAID-funded WASH for Health Project, is installing a plastic latrine slab for use as a household latrine.

James also happens to be visually impaired, and has been living with the support of his family since he became blind, about five years ago.  “I suffered before, to go out into the bush,” James says, because he had to rely heavily on his family, which was difficult. But, a few months ago, James’s community was targeted to receive WASH for Health’s Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) intervention and as a result, the community learned the importance of hygiene and sanitation practices. Now, there are nine household latrines in the community and a marked reduction in illnesses. “Before flies would come and be on our food, and we would get runny tummies; now, we do not get the same,” James’ son explains. This changed behaviour has improved health in the community and has classified it as Open Defecation Free. In support of these improved sanitation behaviors, James and his household was identified as a beneficiary for the installation of the Digni-Loo, a newly developed plastic latrine slab, designed by Global Communities/Ghana Country Director, Alberto Wilde. The innovative latrine technology is easy to install, durable, visually appealing, easy to keep clean and use again. Made of sturdy plastic, once a pit is dug, the slab can be installed in less than 10 minutes.  Then, when it is full, it can be removed and re-installed elsewhere.  James is very pleased with his new latrine, he has his own private space that is easy to access and maintain, and he no longer needs to take a long walk, relying on the availability of others to help him.  He further expressed how grateful he is for the support from Global Communities and USAID, saying that, “as a blind person, there is no way to do anything and it is very painful,” but because of the WASH for Health intervention, he realizes that his health and wellbeing is important, even to people half a world away in the United States.