The lack of sanitation services is a significant problem in Ghana and it goes hand in hand with poverty. As a part of Co-creating Sustainable Cities project, 55 Urine Diverting Dry Toilets (UDDTs) were built in 14 different communities in Ho at spring 2018. Four students from Lahti University of Applied Sciences did their three-month-internship in Ho monitoring and coordinating the construction.
Authors: Tiia Permanto and Maarit Virtanen
Water and sanitation situation in Ghana
According to UNICEF Ghana (2018), only 15% of Ghanaians have access to improved sanitation and 4000 children die each year of diarrhoea. People are practicing open defecation widely. In 2015, open defecation percent in Ghana was 31% in rural areas and 8% in urban areas. In Volta region, where Ho Municipality is located, open defecation percent is about 25% (WHO and UNICEF 2018). Access to safe water and improved sanitation both in rural and urban areas are priorities in improving health.
In Ho, the municipality is implementing rural and urban sanitation programs (Ho Local Municipality 2016). In rural areas, the officials are educating communities to help them achieve ODF-status (Open Defecation Free). The construction of toilets is hindered mainly by poverty and the lack of awareness on the importance of sanitation, but also the soil makes constructing traditional pit toilets difficult in many communities. In some communities, the ground is too hard for digging, while in others, it is very soft and in some, the groundwater level is very high.
In a country, where water is scarce and its supply uncertain, Water Closets (WCs) are a questionable and unsustainable solution. The high prices of water and septic tank emptying services make the use of these toilets expensive. In addition, there are few facilities for handling wastewater. In Volta region, there are no wastewater treatment plants, which means that septic tanks are emptied to the ground or concrete drains leading to streams and rivers.
FIGURE 1. Wastewater and sludge ends up on fields and rivers. (Photo: Tiia Permanto)
UDDT solves many problems
Dry toilets have several benefits over pit toilets or WCs. In a UDDT, urine is diverted to a separate container and the faeces go into the composting vault. There are two composting vaults for each toilet, so that the composting takes place in one vault, while the other one is used. This makes the UDDT hygienic and safe to use. Waterproof vaults make sure that soil and groundwater are not polluted unlike with pit toilets. UDDTs do not smell, when used correctly with sawdust or other locally available composting materials. Water is required only during the construction phase. What is also essential in rural areas is that both the urine and compost can be used as fertilisers. Chemical fertilisers are expensive and difficult to purchase, which contributes to low yields in Ghana.
Construction work in practice
The design of household UDDTs built in spring 2018 was modified from previously constructed school UDDT’s and a few existing examples of household UDDTs in Ho. The original assignment of LAMK students was to monitor and report the construction process at communities. However, the Ghanaian timetables and working practices do not always match the Finnish aims, and the students ended up taking a more active role in the construction than originally planned. They did, for example, the procurement for materials from local markets and shops. When the actual construction began, things started moving quicker and more smoothly. Altogether 12 artisans built the toilets working in pairs in the communities. Some of them had previous experience of building UDDTs and all of them were trained by the project in 2017. In addition to the trained builders, local artisans were encouraged to participate in the construction, so that they can continue the work themselves. Pilot community households were also trained on how to use the UDDTs and fertilisers produced.
Toilets were constructed in two phases. In the first phase, there were 7 communities and 31 toilets and in the second phase, 6 communities and 23 toilets. One of the construction challenges turned out to be the lack of budget. The original plan was to build 80 toilets but the increases in construction material prices and some other unexpected costs made this impossible. The project funding for UDDTs covers constructing the base with all the piping and the urine container. The upper structure is under beneficiaries’ own responsibility. They can use locally available materials like bamboo and leaves for roof, walls and door.
FIGURE 2. A household UDDT under construction (Photo: Tiia Permanto)
The students visited the communities almost daily during the construction, delivering materials and drinking water for the artisans and checking that they had all materials needed. The students also informed the next communities that work will start soon and made sure that the necessary materials like stones, sand and water were available. Despite the variety of schedules, cooperation with Ho Municipality was rewarding and gave important skills and experiences to students. Cooperation with artisans and communities went smoothly and it was clear to see, how important these toilets are for households. The municipal officials continue the work in Ho by monitoring the use of UDDTs and encouraging more households to take up sustainable sanitation.
Ho Local Municipality. 2016. Ho Municipal Assembly Municipal Environmental Sanitation Action Plan: 2016 Update.
UNICEF Ghana. 2018. Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. [Cited 31 August 2018]. Available at: https://www.unicef.org/ghana/wes.html
WHO and UNICEF. 2018. WASH data. [Cited 23 August 2018]. Available at: https://washdata.org/data
About the authors
Tiia Permanto is one of LAMK students who did their internship in Ghana. Maarit Virtanen is a RDI Specialist and Project Manager for Co-creating Sustainable Cities project. The project is funded by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
Illustration: https://pixabay.com/en/door-old-wooden-door-heart-toilet-516731/ (CC0)
Reference to this publication
Permanto, T. & Virtanen, M. 2018. LAMK students participate in improving sanitation in Ho, Ghana. LAMK Pro. [Electronic magazine]. [Cited and date of citation]. Available at: http://www.lamkpub.fi/2018/09/03/lamk-students-participate-in-improving-sanitation-in-ho-ghana