What a surprise…a rumble…a crack…cement splitting, the floor turning on angle, walls sliding out, brick mortar raining down, a flood of light and a quick exchange of fouled air for fresh.

At least that’s how I imagine it.

While in Mansa, on business my pit latrine collapsed into it’s, well, it’s pit, haha. It seems I have some basic construction lessons to teach in addition to my work as a health volunteer.

My community, in its excitement to welcome me (well, that’s not totally accurate…let’s say in its headlong rush to appease a pissed-off volunteer when he arrived and found his latrine incomplete) they built me a king-sized version. A pit 2m by 2m and here’s the kicker – it was square.

Now Chisunka has a loamy sandy clay soil, prone to compaction and crumbling. A square shaft 2m deep and 2m by 2m square presents itself as a perfect opportunity for such soil to take aforementioned action and naturally attempt to fill such an unnatural void. Add shortened floor beams, rain, the unusual weight of a cemented floor and walls and you have some serious issues.

So, you can imagine my surprise and derision when I took note of the construction, wondering how lucky I was it had lasted as long as it did, and that I hadn’t been in it when it collapsed!!

There are a few quick fixes to the above. First make it a cylinder. The pressure of the soil is better distributed and the tube significantly stronger. Second, if the soil is really a problem, add a wicker/threaded bamboo shell the size of the tube to reinforce the soil and prevent collapse. Also, make the floor beams a bit longer than the pit and if using concrete make sure the concrete cap also has a healthy overlapping margin – mine didn’t.

Exciting lessons! The most exciting part, I get to rebuild it (wooooo) and modify it to my specifications, including a pipe to make it a VIP – ventilated improved pit latrine – which will eliminate the fly issue. And a squat facilitating bar. That’s right a knee saver – a cross bar at squat height to hold on to. As well as making the structure taller so I don’t have to crouch to enter. No, no, it’s okay you can laugh…it’s really that awesome.


Good night y’all.