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Richard Chunga's blog: Reporting on his PhD investigating key factors affecting the adoption of urine diverting toilets (UDTs) in peri-urban areas.

28 February 2014

Richard Chunga has worked in the WASH sector in Malawi for several years, including in monitoring and evaluation at WaterAid and as a health education specialist at Water for People. He holds an MSc in Community Water Supply and Sanitation from Cranfield University and an MSc in Project Planning and Management from Bradford University. Richard began his PhD at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) in 2011. His PhD is funded by the SHARE Research Consortium. 

For his PhD, Richard is investigating key factors affecting the adoption of urine diverting toilets (UDTs) in peri-urban areas in Blantyre and Lilongwe City in Malawi. He was motivated to carry out this investigation because through his work with WaterAid and Water for People - two key players in WASH in peri-urban areas in Malawi - he observed that the adoption of UDTs is very slow in spite of the multiple benefits that the technology offers landlords in peri-urban areas.

This blog will track Richard's progress:

 


March 2014

The question: slow adoption rates of UDT by landlords despite multiple benefits

The concept of UDTs fits very well with the challenges of sanitation in peri-urban areas and offers solutions to most of the challenges associated with pit latrines (common form of sanitation in peri-urban areas in Malawi): UDTs are permanent in the sense that they are designed to be emptied when they fill up and emptying them is much easier and cheaper than emptying pit latrines; they save space because they are permanent so a landlord no longer needs to worry about space for building the next sanitation facility; they are not as smelly as pit latrines and do not attract many flies because of the ash and soil that users add into the chambers of these facilities after defecating; they are less likely to collapse than pit latrines and they offer landlords access to compost which they can use to improve food production or they can sell it.

Despite all these benefits, the adoption of UDTs is very slow. Is the adoption very slow because the technology is more expensive than a pit latrine? Is it because landlords consider handling human compost to be disgusting? Could it be because landlords consider the task of adding ash and soil into the chambers of UDTs after defecating to be too involving and that tenants may not be able to use it? Perhaps landlords are not aware of this technology? Are there other coping strategies (other than adopting UDTs) that landlords in peri-urban areas prefer to adopt to overcome the multiple challenges associated with pit latrines? If there are other coping strategies; what are these coping strategies and what are their advantages and disadvantages.

Research methods

My investigation started with a series of in-depth interviews with landlords and tenants. I targeted landlords and tenants already using UDTs as well as landlords and tenants not using UDTs. The purpose of these in-depth interviews was to explore key factors that encourage landlords to adopt UDTs and factors that discourage landlords from adopting UDTs. After conducting the in-depth interviews, I carried out a survey in 30 peri-urban areas in Lilongwe and Blantyre City where I interviewed 1300 landlords that have not yet adopted a UDT. The purpose of the survey was to evaluate the attitude of landlords towards UDTs and investigate sanitation technology preferences (stated preference) of landlords. After completing the survey, I carried out further in-depth interviews. The aims of these interviews were: (1) to compare the sanitation technology preferences that landlords made during the survey to the sanitation technologies which they actually installed, (2) to understand other strategies (other than adopting a UDT) that landlords implement to overcome the multiple challenges associated with pit latrines in peri-urban areas.

Key observations

(1) Technological and non-technological strategies: There are technological and non technological strategies that landlords in peri-urban areas implement to overcome the multiple challenges associated with pit latrines. The non technological strategies are much easier and cheaper to implement (in the short term) than the technological strategies.

(2) Collapsing of pit latrines: Landlords prefer to avoid collapsing of pit latrines by: (1) upgrading to a slab/cement floor, (2) improving the foundation of their sanitation facilities, (3) roofing their sanitation facilities, and if possible (4) lining the pits of their sanitation facilities with bricks and cement from the bottom of the pit to the top of the pit. The first three options are much cheaper than adopting a UDT.

(3) Space for sanitation: Landlords are rational in the sense that they reserve some space within their plots for sanitation. The size of space for sanitation depends on the size of land that a landlord purchases, the number of houses s/he builds, and the size of these houses. Generally, landlords want to generate more money by taking advantage of the high demand for housing in peri-urban areas so they usually build multiple houses. Landlords also build bigger houses on relatively smaller plots because no-one wants to live in a small house. When landlords build multiple houses or build bigger houses on smaller plots, they quickly run out of space for sanitation.

(4) Running out of space for sanitation: Running out of space for sanitation means that a landlord has dug pit latrines and refuse/rubbish pits on all the space that was initially reserved for sanitation. Landlords that build multiple houses or bigger houses on relatively small plots are more likely to run out of space for sanitation much faster than landlords that resist the temptation of building multiple houses or bigger houses to generate extra cash.

(5) Space for new sanitation facilities: Generally, landlords dislike building new pit latrines on an old pit latrine spot or on old refuse/rubbish pit spots. Pit latrines that are built on such spots easily collapse. When there is no other new space for sanitation, landlords are forced to build new pit latrines on old pit latrine or refuse spots. Landlords avoid collapsing of pit latrines by improving the quality of their pit latrines. They start with simple improvements such as buying a slab, improving the foundation of their pit latrine so that water does not penetrate into the soil surrounding the latrine and roofing their sanitation facilities. These strategies are much easier and cheaper to implement (in the short term) than adopting a UDT or any other alternative sanitation technology e.g. a pour flush toilet, double pit latrine or a fossa alterna toilet.

(6) A different form of ecological sanitation: When there is no new space for sanitation; landlords are forced to build new pit latrines on old pit latrine or refuse spots. By building new pit latrines on old pit latrine spots or refuse pits, landlords are in a way already practising a different form of ecological sanitation. Their form of ecological sanitation is much cheaper and easier to implement than implementing a UDT, double pit or a fossa alterna toilet. With this form of ecological sanitation, the aim of landlords is not access to compost or cheap fertiliser but to have access to sanitation. 

(7) Pit emptying: Pit latrines that are built on old refuse pits or old pit latrine spots are more likely to collapse than pit latrine built on new spaces To avoid collapsing of pit latrines, landlords are forced to: (1) upgrade to slab/cement floor, (2) improve the foundation of their sanitation facilities, (3) roof their sanitation facilities, (4) and if possible lining the pits of their sanitation facilities with bricks and cement from the bottom of the pit to the top. These improvements force a landlord to invest more money in a sanitation facility. 

When a landlord feels that s/he invested more money on a sanitation facility, emptying the facility when it fills up becomes more desirable than building again because emptying is now cheaper than building again. Landlords do not only empty their sanitation facilities because of lack of space but also because they feel that they invested a lot of money in their sanitation facility. 

(8) Smell and flies: Some landlords reduce smell and flies by adding ash or water to their pit latrines. Water is added to pit latrines by directing water from bathrooms or splashing hot water into pit latrines. Adding water to pit latrines has another advantage: emptying becomes easier as the faeces are not as dry. People carrying out pit emptying services usually add water to pit latrines before emptying. However, pit latrines that are not lined with bricks from the bottom of the pit to the top are more likely to collapse when water is added to the pit. The practice of adding water to the pits also increases the risk of ground water contamination.

(9) Use of chemicals: Use of chemicals to reduce the filling up rate or to make faeces in pit latrines subside is very rare. The chemical that some landlords have used is called pit king. Some landlords believe that this chemical causes pits to collapse because it also eats the walls of pit latrines. Other landlords believe that pit latrines do not significantly subside when they use chemicals.

Factors motivating landlords to adopt UDTs

(9) Permanent sanitation facility: Landlords are attracted to UDTs because they believe that UDTs are permanent. Owning a permanent sanitation facility is particularly important in high water table areas where pit latrines easily collapse and in rocky places where digging deep pit latrines is challenging. In rocky places, people are not able to dig deep toilets so they build new sanitation facilities frequently. By building sanitation facilities frequently, they quickly run out of space for sanitation so a urine diverting toilet is found to be attractive because it can be emptied and put back into use.

(10) Access to compost: Access to compost is the second key motivating factor. Even landlords that do not have a maize or vegetable garden found access to compost to be motivating and it’s mainly because they expect that they would sell the compost to landlords that have maize or vegetable gardens. Lack of a maize or vegetable garden was not found to be a key barrier.

(11) Lack of smell and reduced number of flies: Lack of smell and flies are two key advantages of urine diverting toilets. Landlords recognise that UDTs are not as smelly as pit latrines and that a UDT can be installed very close to a house without creating any discomfort to the residents (in terms of smell). 

Key barriers

(12) Installation cost: The cost of installing UDTs is considered to be very high. When installing a UDT, a landlord is required to buy new materials (bricks, roofing materials, pipes, a door) and pay for skilled labour. The installation of a pit latrine is much cheaper because materials are salvaged from other places as well as from abandoned pit latrines. Some landlords install pit latrines on their own i.e. they do not require the services of a skilled mason or builder.

(13) Presence of tenants at a plot/compound: Landlords fear that tenants may not use UDTs properly (collecting ash and soil and adding these into the chambers of UDTs). Landlords feel that tenants may not be concerned about proper management of a UDT because they are just tenants who are residing at the plot/compound temporarily. Management of a UDT requires cooperation among the users but users may not cooperate fully and therefore fail to manage a UDT properly. Another key concern is that children may not be able to use a UDT properly. Some landlords have allocated their UDTs to adults only.

(14) Attitude of tenants towards UDTs: Tenants are attracted to UDTs because they do not smell and do not attract flies but they believe that a UDT should not be shared among multiple tenants. No tenant wants to appear to act as the landlord (the one telling people off when they are not using a UDT properly). According to the tenants, a UDT should be allocated to a single tenant and his/her children or just two tenants but not beyond that. There was an incident where tenants had a fight because one tenant believed that the other tenant was not using the shared UDT responsibly. 

(15) Disgust with handling human compost: Disgust was not found to be a major barrier. There are three reasons for this: (1) your own faeces are not as disgusting as the faeces of other people. (2) Mothers are used to cleaning nappies and handling faeces of their children so handling human compost is not considered to be very disgusting. (3) By the time they are required to empty the chambers of a UDT, the faeces are dry so no longer disgusting.

(16) Loan for sanitation: Access to a loan for sanitation would increase the adoption rate of UDTs but also lined pit latrines and slabs. However, some landlords are scared of taking any loan because they are not confident that they would be able to pay back a loan from their unstable sources of income. Most of these are fearful that their houses would be confiscated if they fail to pay back their loans.

(17) Saving for sanitation: Saving for sanitation is very difficult because of lower disposable incomes. A landlord cannot fail to provide food or send a child to school because he/she is saving for sanitation. Most landlords feel that it is better to take a loan than to save for sanitation and paying back a loan is much easier than saving.

(18) Promotion of alternative sanitation technologies: Programmes aimed at promoting alternative sanitation technologies must ensure that consumers have access to loan/credit facilities. Loan/credit facilities must be flexible to allow consumers to choose a sanitation technology of their choice.