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Eco@Africa

Clean, green toilets help students get to class

Latrines that convert human waste into biogas aren’t just a renewable solution for fuel. A school director in Kampala says they also have benefits in health and literacy.

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Toilets for green gas

Mwima Musa Busa is director of Kansanga Primary School in Kampala. For a long time, the school faced a common problem in Uganda. The toilets were dirty, children were reluctant to use them, and there were frequent outbreaks of illness.

But for the last few years, things have been different. In 2012, Mwima oversaw the installation of bio-latrines that have not only made going to the toilet an altogether more pleasant experience but also improved student health.

“The toilets are clean. They don't stink, there are no flies,” Mwima told DW. “There are no sanitation-related diseases or complaints of stomach ache.”

Mwima says the impact has been huge. Children are less likely fall ill and miss classes, so educational standards are higher. Better toilets, he says, can mean higher rates of literacy, which is good for society as a whole.

Good for students, good for forests

And there are environmental benefits, too. The bio-latrines turn human waste into gas that’s used for cooking. That means the school now consumes 75 percent less firewood.

Mwima Musa Busa (DW/M. Hartlep)

School director Mwima Musa Busa says biolatrines have cut costs for the school - meanings fees can also be reduced

The children’s meals are cooked with far less impact on forests – which are being lost at  rate of 80,00 hectares a year in Uganda largely because of the demand for wood and charcoal for cooking.

And using gas instead of charcoal means less smoke, which makes the school kitchen a more healthy environment, too. 

“In the kitchen we find the cooks enjoy their work and aren’t falling sick,” Mwima says.

Still, he admits parents were a little wary of the new toilets at first.

The proof is in the pudding

“People thought the end product is like the beginning,” Mwima explains delicately. “We had to explain the science to them.”

The school invited parents to learn about the biological processes used in the system, and gave them a meal cooked using the biogas.

Kansanga Grundschule in Kampala (DW/M. Hartlep)

Kansanga primary school in Kampala was a test site for the biogas latrines, to see if they were suitable for younger children

Now, the toilets have proved so successful they are a major draw for new pupils. Mwima says before the news toilets were installed, the school had 700 pupils. Now, the student body has expanded to 1,200 children.

“The number of pupils increases because they know there is a good sanitation facility,” he said.

Economic benefits

The Kansanga Primary School latrines are a pilot project supported with funding from the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ).

Mwima admits the initial installation costs of between 2 and 3,000 US dollars are steep. But the long-term economic benefits mean his school has even been able to reduce its fees.  Not only do the latrines mean less money spent on fuel. They also save on water.

“We almost don't need to be connected (to the water mains) anymore,” Mwima says. “We have a harvesting tank to collect rain water.”

Kansanga Grundschule in Kampala (DW/M. Hartlep)

Better sanitation improves attendance - so that students achieve more

And maintenance costs are low. The tiolets only have to emptied once a year – compared to seven or eight times over the same period for the old pit latrines.

From education to security

And it’s not just schools that could make the most the bio-latrines. The system is already being used in hospitals. And Mwima says the wider community could benefit too.

“The gas can be used for security lights in the community. Here in Kampala, we pay a lot of money for security lighting – the bio-latrines can be an advantage for sanitation and health, and also be an advantage on security.”

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