Careers & Education

Pit latrines best option for some schools?

BY DENISE DENNIS Career & Education staff reporter dennisd@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 19, 2012    

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THE Ministry of Health has said it is safer to have pit latrines in areas where there is an inadequate supply of water, while the Ministry of Education moves to replace them at some schools on the island.

According to Chief Medical Officer Dr Eva Fuller, from a disease standpoint, pit latrines as a means of excretor disposal are quite acceptable.

"People are saying it's modern times so they don't want pit latrines, but they have no consistent supply of water so they run into problems," she told Career & Education.

Fuller said the most important thing is to ensure that there is a consistent water supply, especially as it relates to children.

"Children must have a water supply to wash their hands after using the toilet. Whether it be a pit latrine or a water closet, they must have some kind of water supply," she said.

"If water is limited, then use the limited supply of water to wash hands rather than using it to flush and then not having any to wash hands," Fuller added.

The Ministry of Education announced at a recent press conference that of the 229 schools across the island still using pit latrines, 28 will be replaced under the Replacement of Pit Latrines in Schools Programme.

That programme is supported by the Government, in partnership with the Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education Fund, the Jamaica Social Investment Fund and the Petro-Caribe Development Fund.

The first 28 schools to have their pit latrines replaced will form phase one of the programme, which Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education Grace McLean said turns on a plan to get rid of all pit latrines in schools — some of which do not currently have a consistent supply of water — over the next three years.

Preliminary cost for this phase of the programme is $182 million for which the first 10 contracts should have been issued this past week, while the others are shortly to be processed.

Meanwhile, Fuller maintains that there are ways to build pit latrines so that they can be an acceptable technology for excretor disposal.

"What we insist on is that we have the area properly assessed so that you won't have seepage into the aquifer; that it's not near to wells where people would be getting water for domestic use and that we have well-constructed flooring so that it is safe and won't cave in — especially where children will be using it," she said, noting that the structures need also to be properly maintained.

At the same time, she said it should be made so that it is properly ventilated.

"And we even have a way of doing it, where we have two sides and when one side is full, we close that off and that goes into disintegration and we use the other side. At some future date, we can go back into the [first] side by cleaning it out and using it again so we will have a perpetual excretor disposal system," Fuller said.

However, she noted that if pit latrines are not clean and hands come into contact with urine or faeces, it is possible for children to contract communicable or fecal-oral diseases, such as typhoid, leading to gastroenteritis.

The education ministry has, in the interim, said that the first set of schools selected for the programme were chosen based on their connection to the National Water Commission (NWC) for regular water supply. Work at those schools began this month and are to be completed in December.

An e-mailed response from the education ministry detailing the programme said 41 schools are to be targeted across five regions in phase one (2013 - 2014) — based on the availability of funds. It is estimated that this initial phase of the project will cost some $236.5 million.

The next phase (2014 - 2015) will target 76 schools across six regions and should cost approximately $504.3 million. None of those schools are supplied water by the NWC and use water-harvesting methods, such as catchments and tanks.

For phase three (2015 to 2016), 82 schools in another six regions, also not currently supplied by NWC, will be targeted. Work on that phase is projected to cost $504.3 million.

Water tanks are to be provided where there is no constant supply of water.

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