Toilets for poor communities in Bolivia

by | Jan 22, 2020

Location – Buena Vista, State of Santa Cruz, Province of Ichilo, Bolivia

Activities – Subsidized provision of composting toilets; training on their use; hygiene promotion.

Period – 1 year, 2020-2021

Beneficiaries – Very low income families

Program Focus
Toilets are a basic necessity and can transform a landscape from a dangerous collection of germs and parasites, to a clean safe environment. Transform International (Canada) and our partner Etta Projects will build composting toilets in very poor villages in the Santa Cruz region of Bolivia. 

$1260 CAD

provides a safe toilet, for a family, that will last 20 years with easy maintenance.

Total Budget: $156,240 CAD

Etta Projects (EP) has worked with dry ecological composting latrines – a viable alternative to pits that need emptying – for many years. After much research and testing, EP selected Banos Ecologico Seco (BES) in large part for their durability and user friendliness. This ecological bathroom is built above ground and does not require permanent plumbing or water. The toilet is a double-vault system, with one chamber in use at any given time. The toilet seat itself has two holes so urine is collected separately from feacal matter (poop).

Poop enters the collection chamber, is contained and decomposes; urine is captured separately. After each use of the latrine, dry material (ash or lime) is added to prevent odour, repel bugs, and aid decomposition. Toilet paper can be thrown into the latrine as it does not disrupt decomposition. This approach contains the poop and eliminates risk of faecal matter leaking into ground water.

When this chamber is full, the toilet is moved over the second chamber, and the first chamber is covered. The poop in the first chamber begins the composting process. Once the poop in the first chamber is fully decomposed, it has no unpleasant odour, and is basically rich soil. It can then be safely emptied from the pit and used to improve soil and fertilize fruit trees etc., a further benefit of composting toilets.

This process of alternating the use of the collection chambers and excavating the fully composted contents continues over time.

Our experience has shown the ecological bathroom is ideal for Eastern Bolivia. The hot temperatures in the area allow for faster decomposition of the faecal matter. The area has shallow ground water and is prone to flooding, so typical pit latrines, where the poop is collected in a hole in the ground, can lead to many problems such as contamination of ground water. They overflow easily spreading dangerous germs.

Each family toilet is constructed on the site of the family home by an experienced mason, with the help of at least one family member. All materials are sourced locally. These toilets last at least 20 years and maintenance is minor if used correctly.

The construction cost for each unit is $985 CAD including materials and labor. The administration, training for families and the school adds an additional $275, making the cost per unit $1260. Training is essential for sustainability of the project. Education is at the core of all of our projects.

Sanitation & WASH Education
Each families receives 8-10 workshops on construction and use of their latrine, hygiene, clean water systems, and environmental consciousness. All the schools in each community also receive hygiene promotion programs. For every 10 units a community sanitation promoter (sanitation promoters volunteer and are voted to serve in a community meeting by their fellow community members. They are compensated monthly with household goods such a rice, soap, toilet paper, oil etc.) is trained and assigned to monitor and trouble shoot with families, as well as inspect our work. These sanitation promoters are called on to assist over the next 5 years to help when we come back to monitor in their community. During the course of the project they receive monthly support basket with commonly needed item like soap, toilet paper, rice, beans etc.

Families self-identify for this project long in advance. They commit to the financial counterpart, attendance at workshops and participation in construction. The municipality also agrees to its share of the project which helps to motivate families and gives everyone skin in the game from the beginning. Etta Projects has many community contacts prior to agreeing to a project. Relationship and trust are huge parts of the success of a project.

Project Partner
Etta Projects is an excellent partner for Transform International (Canada) for this work. They have been working in the Buena Vista municipality for the last four years. During that time they have installed 3 water systems and are working presently on two more. They have just completed 132 ecological composting latrines in the area and are in the middle of training 20 community health promoters for 8 communities. Last year they trained 28 medicinal plant promoters in the region.

They are well established in the region and have a good relationship with the municipal government, the health department and all the communities in this region.

The villages seeking BES in Buena Vista
The communities seeking Ecological Composting Latrines include Santa Rosita, a community of 33 families. Twenty-five of these families use pit latrines or open air defecation. The eight that do not worked with Etta Projects in 2018 to build Eco latrines. Since then the other community members have observed the advantages of the composting latrines and are now ready to invest and create a new project in their community.

Villa Amboró has 35 families, all of which use pit latrines or open air defecation. In 2016 Etta Projects worked with this community to get 25 families connected to a clean water system. This again is a gravity fed tank and well system with distribution to each home. The 13 families that were not a part of this system simply live too far from the center to take advantage of the distribution system.

Guadalupe Palometilla is a small community with only 14 families. Due to some extra money on another water project and the eagerness of this community Etta Projects was able to help them have a simple water distribution system in 2016. This again is a gravity fed well system. All 14 families are now requesting Ecological Composting Latrines.

The communities of Villa Amboró and G. Palometilla have already been beneficiaries of EP water projects. Both communities have running water and a working water committee thanks to Etta Projects that worked there between 2016 and 2017. Ever since, they have been asking for the sanitation project. During the Water Committee trainings, community meetings or municipal meetings, their leaders have never lost an opportunity to remind the director of EP to include them in the next BES project.

A neighboring larger community near Guadalupe Palometilla called Caranda with a much larger population have requested to be included in this grant and there are 10 families asking to build eco latrines.  This is frequently the process in Bolivia as a few brave families ask to participate in a project and then the rest of the community request in the following year. You can see the same pattern from Santa Rosita in 2018 building 8 and now the rest of the community would like these units.

Finally, also in the Buena Vista Municipality, a community called Carmen Surutu has 98 families, 50 of whom are requesting ecological composting latrines. There are 61 of these families who drink from a safe well built by the municipality, 37 families use shallow wells or go to the river. (We will likely work with these 37 to find a system that may work for them such as home filtration.) They came to Etta Projects in 2016 to ask for help with an Eco latrine system.

Budget for 124 latrines in 5 villages:
Families (15%) $23,426
Other (55%) $85,932
Total $156,240

Etta Projects CTC

Etta Projects CTC, Bolivia