How to make a pit latrine

Amal Chatterjee
6 min readFeb 19, 2019

Synopsis : The household cleanliness depends upon the disposal of waste be it kitchen or toilet waste in a manner that is effective that does not spread disease and pollute the environment. So building toilet is a necessity and not a luxury anywhere. This blogs shows how an 18 year old village girl builds a practical pit toilet all by herself who can motivate millions of rural folks to do the same.

Ever since people started to live in communities in villages and towns, they have had to face one crucial problem that had to do with the disposal of human waste. The mark of any civilisation was often determined by their living standards for the common people who lived in communities so since the ancient times, people adopted town planning that included laying out the streets and dwellings in a geometrical pattern as we find in the ancient ruins of Harappa and Mohenjodaro.

Source : Google photo of ruins of Harappa showing meticulous planning 10000 years ago

They paid particular attention to open spaces that were reserved for parks, water reservoir and communal toilets. Their cities had wide roads, good drainage system for the rain water and the household effluents and canals and under ground pipes to drain the water into a pond or away from the towns. We can still see the vestiges of these drainage systems in the dug up ruins of Harappa and elsewhere and marvel at their sophistication of civil engineering skills thousands of years ago.

Later the Romans improved upon those skills and laid out magnificent towns and cities with meticulous planning that showed their advanced skills in using cement and stones to build edifices that still stand after thousands of years. You have to visit the ruins of Pompeii near Naples to admire how they built it and how far they had gone in developing a very effective waste disposal system for every household there.

Source : Google photo of communal toilet facility in Pompeii 2000 years ago

Source : Google photo of the Roman baths of Caracalla in Rome

The Romans were master builders so any thing they built was done with style and splendor as is evident from this photo of their bath houses of Caracalla in Rome although it is in ruins now. It contained smimming pools and fancy toilets for the elites and was beautifully decorated with wall and floor mosaics and marble statuaries.

But how about the common people ? The photo of toilets in Pompeii shows that they too enjoyed good town planning and waste disposal system . Every house had toilets and good drainage system throughout the town. The communal toilets for the residents are shown in the photo above.

We now come to the present day when we still find people living in villages in Asia and Africa where their toilets are primitive if they have one. In my father’s village in Bengal there were no toilets so people had to go to the fields to defecate. It was particularly hard for women who had no privacy so they went to the fields long before sunrise and often had to contend with wild animals like foxes or jackals. We as children had no particular time to go so often some aunt had to accompany us with a kerosene lantern in the dark and keep guard over us .

In India it has become a national cry to build facilities in all the villages so no one has to go to the fields. The government of India now has built modern toilets in over 600000 villages throughout the country and continues to build more until the rest of the villages are reached. This means that the government has spent a tremendous amount of money to build such facilities while the poorer countries in Africa and Asia do not have such resources so people are left to their own resources that are little.

When we lived in a village in Mali , West Africa, I had a five room round house built there by the villagers for us that included a nice bath and toilet facility that was walled and had a grass roof. I cemented the floor later. You can see the photos of our round houses in the blog here called “ How to be truly self reliant anywhere “

It required digging a pit about 6 feet deep that was covered with logs and the floor packed hard with soil. It served as a wonderful toilet where the hole was covered with a metal basin so there was no smell and no flies. The organic waste decomposed into manure later.

I must add that it works well where the ground water table is low but a shallower well works just as well as you will see an 18 year old girl who shows how to build a pit latrine in the following two videos. She works alone and builds a toilet by collecting logs, leaves and bamboo that she cuts from the forest. Her skill considering how young she is will put any young man to shame so just watch the videos here.

Source : U tube video part one

Source : U tube video part two

This blog shows ways how anyone living in a rural area can build a pit latrine by himself so the question is why don’t they build one and why the rural folks in India or elsewhere still prefer going to the fields .

I think this has something to with the culture where a toilet is considered dirty and cleaning it is left to the untouchables which is a caste based system in India but a pit toilet built near the house does not have to be dirty and does not require cleaning because the dry pit accumulating waste becomes manure that can be later dug out and used to fertilize plants in the vegetable gardens that they have. This method only works in rural areas where most people still live.

I am a strong believer in self help so this method shown by the girl is quite feasible so anyone can build it with little or no help using the bamboo or logs cut from nearby forest. I think the reason why they do not build toilets in villages can be laziness as well as cultural but both can be overcome with proper guidance and motivation by the extension agents who work for the department of health in many countries.

In cities, there are regulations that require modern toilets in every new construction. I applaud the Indian government’s effort to eradicate open defecation and educate the public through the mass media like TV advertisements that rural people also watch. Famous Bollywood actors have given this program their full support and explain why the modern toilet is not a luxury but a necessity in the TV programs.

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Amal Chatterjee

I am the village bard who loves to share his stories.