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How To Build A Healthy Latrine

In December, we told you about the community of La Zarca and their need for adequate sanitation. Now we’re happy to announce our staff in Mexico have been working with the community to build Healthy Latrines™!

No Safe Toliet
Before Water Missions International worked with the community, makeshift shacks like this served as bathrooms.

We’ve shared about what goes into our community-based projects and disaster response approach, so in honor of the beginning of this newest project we thought we would to break down how we build sustainable sanitation.

Step 1:

After tearing down their old, unsanitary latrines, work can begin on the new project. Before the day construction begins, our staff has already met with the community to plan out the project site. Community members and staff members always construct the new Healthy Latrines™ together.

Healthy Latines
A community member checks to see if the frame for the base of the latrine is level.

Every latrine has two components—the privacy structure and the latrine pit—connected by a pipe. Construction begins with the team laying out the pipe in freshly dug earth. Once the pipe is laid out, they can set up the wooden frame for the latrine base. Next, they dig an eight foot deep pit. This rock-lined pit connects to the latrine base through the pipe.

Step 2:

Once both the latrine base and the latrine pit have been framed with wood, the team fills both frames with concrete.

Building latrines
Community members carefully pour freshly-mixed concrete into the frame for the latrine’s base.

Step 3:

After the concrete dries, it’s time to set up the latrine mold.

Some assembly required

Every latrine gets constructed with an aluminum form that serves as a mold for the concrete privacy structure. The metal pieces screw together to form the structure. As the team sets up the mold, they coat the insides with vegetable oil to make sure the concrete they’ll pour inside doesn’t stick.

Step 4:

Once the form is up and ready to go, the team will mix concrete for the privacy structure. They add fibers to reinforce the structure and make the concrete stronger.


Healthy Latrine

Step 5:

Once the concrete is mixed, our team will pour it into each metal mold.

Building Latrines

Once the concrete gets poured, the team leaves it to set for 24 hours.

Step 6:

The next day, the team gathers together to unscrew the metal form from the latrine.


Once the metal form comes off, the team installs a pour-flush toilet in each privacy structure and a simple wood door. Then, finally, the latrine is ready for use!

New Latrines
Our Mexico staff and community members celebrated the completion of the first latrines for the La Zarca sanitation project.

Our staff in Mexico will continue to work with the community of La Zarca as they continue to construct latrines. They are also looking at other potential sanitation projects in communities in Mexico.

8 Responses.
  1. Terry Timm (@terrytimm) April 17, 2014
    Terry Timm (@terrytimm) April 17, 2014

    Thrilled to see this project become a reality!

  2. Jim Peterson April 23, 2014
    Jim Peterson April 23, 2014

    Could you provide more information on the pit and how it is constructed and maintained? Many thanks.

    • Lauren McCarter April 25, 2014
      Lauren McCarter April 25, 2014

      For each latrine, an eight foot deep pit is dug in the ground and then lined with rocks or concrete. This design can vary slightly depending on the local soil. Each household receiving a latrine is responsible for digging the pit and collecting the lining materials.

      We have conservatively estimated that, if properly maintained, each latrine pit will last ~7.5 years. The pit latrine works similarly to a septic tank; liquids seep into the surrounding soil and solids remain. Once a pit fills, the household will need to dig a new pit and reroute the piping. At the start of every project, our team makes sure that the latrines are located in an area with an appropriate distance from the local water supply and with enough space for future pits to be dug.

      Our staff also hold training workshops with each family receiving a latrine. Families are taught the importance of basic hygiene practices such as proper hand washing and the importance of cleaning their toilet. Our staff also teach them the importance of properly using a poor flush toilet. Each toilet must be flushed with five liters of water and only waste materials and toilet paper should be flushed.

      I hope that this answers your question! If you are interested, you can read more about our latrine design here: http://www.watermissions.org/healthy-latrine

  3. kasambeko joseph April 26, 2014
    kasambeko joseph April 26, 2014

    Thanks for empowering our rural remote poverty stricken communities. God bless the work of your hands. However, am just wondering, does water mission international work at islands? we have serious hygiene needs in latrines and safe water.

    • Lauren McCarter April 29, 2014
      Lauren McCarter April 29, 2014

      Water Missions International has ten international offices around the world from which we operate. To learn more about where we work or to submit a project request form, go here: http://www.watermissions.org/world-map

  4. Jude Lesemann May 5, 2014
    Jude Lesemann May 5, 2014

    What is the cost of constructing each latrine?

    • Lauren McCarter May 6, 2014
      Lauren McCarter May 6, 2014

      The cost of a latrine varies depending on the country program, but generally our Healthy Latrines cost approximately $250-$400 each. That number includes the cost of materials, the time our staff works with the community, and a portion of the cost of the latrine mold.

      Do you have any other questions about our sanitation program that we can answer?

  5. Lenzie O. Winstead June 29, 2014
    Lenzie O. Winstead June 29, 2014

    Awesome …keep up the good works .!!!

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