Science - March 25, 2004

Tanzanians against modern toilets

Sanitation standards in the Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam leave much to be desired. Very few buildings and houses are connected to the municipal sewerage system. This is not only due to lack of money, but also resistance from dwellers to new techniques. Dr Esnati James Chaggu devoted her PhD research to the matter.

Many of the inhabitants in Dar es Salaam are migrants from rural areas, with a low level of education. Chaggu conducted a survey in which 37 percent of those interviewed said they were against the removal of slurry from the many pit latrines in the city to fields, for use as manure. Despite the fact that this would reduce the problem of over-full pit latrines and therefore also ground water pollution and the spread of disease, many people are just not interested. The reason they give is that this is not part of their culture.

Chaggu concludes that it will not be easy to introduce new technologies. The environmental technologist compares the situation with Nepal, where some communities have also rejected modern sanitary facilities on the basis of sayings, such as: “We do not do our business in the same place every time like the rhinoceros does.”

Chaggu points out that well-thought-out information campaigns will be needed to accompany the introduction of new technologies, such as more modern pit-latrines or biogas installations. Lack of money and bad governance also play a role, both common problems in African countries, but cultural aspects also deserve more attention according to Chaggu. Dr Chaggu received her PhD on 23 March. Her supervisor was Professor Gatze Lettinga, Emeritus professor of anaerobic purification and reuse technology.

Hugo Bouter

Re:act