W23 Planning a pit latrine

SanitationHygieneWater and sanitation

Latrines need to be built near the house but at least 20 metres from any water source. The walls can be built of mud, brick, matting or corrugated iron. The roof can be made of grass or tin sheets. If the soil is rocky and hard to dig or the water level in the ground is high, the latrine can be raised above the ground level and built up with stone or blocks.

Latrines usually have a single pit about three metres deep and one metre in diameter. The latrine pit should be reinforced at the top to prevent collapse, especially if the soil is loose and sandy. This can be done using bricks, blocks, reinforcing rings, basket work or an empty 44 gallon oil drum. Dig to the depth of the lining – usually one metre – and insert the lining before digging further. The pit should now be slightly smaller to support the lining.

The most important part of any latrine is the covering slab. These must be well-made, strong and easy to clean. The hole should not be too large or small children could fall in the pit. Wood can be used, but slabs made from cement are usually better. Some slabs use water seal units. Others use simple holes. A cover with a handle should be used for the hole.

VIP latrines are built with a long plastic pipe or brick chimney inside the covering slab extending above the roof. The top is covered with a fine mesh to trap flies. As flies fly up from the pit to the light they are trapped and die. The pipe helps to reduce smells. This kind of latrine needs to be dark inside with the door facing away from the sun.


  • What do people feel is important to consider when planning to build a latrine?
  • What soil types are found in our area? How would this affect what kind of latrine is built? What experience have people had of reinforcing pits – for latrines or wells?
  • Is there any kind of practical or financial help available for people who want to build a latrine? What organisations might provide help?
  • Are communal or household latrines better?
  • What is most likely to motivate people when deciding to build a latrine: family health, community health, convenience, safety or pride?
  • What type of latrine would be most suitable for a school?
  • Are there any cultural issues that prevent men and women using the same latrine?
  • Dangerous slabs are usually among people’s bad experiences of using latrines! What kind of slabs have people seen used? Which have been the best? How could we plan together to build or to use these?
  • Are there people in our community with building skills who could make strong and safe slabs?
  • Are there any NGOs or government departments who could be asked for help with training, designs or providing moulds for latrine slabs?