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close this bookTeaching Conservation in Developing Nations (Peace Corps)
close this folderChapter 3: Conservation education in a health center
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View the documentNutrition
View the documentSanitation
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View the documentSource material - Chapter 3


Sanitation is the planning and application of measures to maintain a healthy environment. These measures should apply to water supply, sewage and garbage disposal, and control of disease-carrying insects and animals.


A community's water supply may come from a ground water well, a spring, a stream, a river or a lake. Unless there is a community-wide water purification system, whatever water there is should be considered to be a potential source of infection and parasites, because human or animal feces or urine, or other untreated sewage, often infect the supply. Therefore, water should be disinfected by each user. The most effective method of preventing water-carried infection and parasites is to boil the water hard for at least ten minutes. This kills bacteria and parasite eggs in the water.

Water purification can be done on a community-wide basis by adding chlorine or iodine to a water storage area. These methods are discussed in the Village Technology Handbook by VITA (See Chapter Sources).

A health center should be concerned with educating a community to develop a clean water source. This would involve educating people to (1) build and use latrines, not the river or lake; (2) put their garbage in compost piles not in or near the water supply; (3) not bathe in the water supply; (4) keep domestic animals out of the water supply; (5) Use erosion control techniques to keep topsoil from washing into the water supply. Other local sources of water contamination should be studied and remedied.


Sewage is the term used for human wastes. Sewage can be properly disposed of by use of latrines. Latrines can be built for each family, or one or several can be built for the community as a whole. A family is likely to keep its latrine clean, and is likely to use it; too often no one feels personal responsibility for keeping the community latrine clean or in good repair. Where possible, you should encourage people to build family rather than community latrines.

Pit Latrines

A pit latrine is basically a hand-dug hole in the ground, covered with a slab, preferably of concrete, either for squatting or with a seat. A shelter is built around it. Human wastes are isolated and stored in the pit latrine, so that no harmful bacteria or parasites can be passed on from the wastes to new hosts. In the pit, the wastes decompose, first into odorous ammonia products, then into nitrites and nitrates. This decomposition process generally kills the majority of harmful organisms. An exception is the hookworm's eggs which remain alive for up to five months in wet. sandy soil.

Pit Latrines

Hookworm larvae can climb up pit walls and survive on a cracked wooden or earth floor, and once there, they can be picked up by bare feet. It is highly recommended that a concrete slab provide the cover for the pit and that it be effectively and frequently flushed with water. Flies are common carriers of disease organisms found in feces. They crawl and feed on this material, which sticks to the flies' bodies, and which later to the flies' bodies, and which later may be deposited on human food, either directly or through the fly's feces. For this reason, it is important to try to discourage flies in a latrine. The best way to do this is to plan a well-ventilated, dark shelter, since flies do not like darkness, Use fine-mesh screening to cover openings if it is available. A 10% surface layer (2.5 cm) of borax has been found to discourage flies. Use of insecticides has been found to develop a fly population resistant to insecticide control. A cover for the nit opening in strongly suggested.

A health center should provide help and information about latrine building. The most complete source of information and directions is Excreta Disposal for Rural and Small Communities, published by WHO, portions of which appear in Village Technology Handbook by VITA.

You should build a pit latrine at an easy distance from the home so as not to discourage its use. It should be down-hill from any ground water supply, in a dry, well-drained area, above flood level. Around the latrine, clear an area 2 m wide of all vegetation and debris, to discourage shelter for animals and insects. This may be done gradually, to gain acceptance of a latrine in a spot where the surrounding vegetation was formerly used.

Since each geographical area will have certain taboos about the collection and disposal of human waste, you will have to identify these before developing an acceptable solution. Privacy and the separation of the sexes may be important considerations. (Also see Appendix E).


Garbage is basically food waste, but can also include other unwanted materials such as paper, cans, bottles. The more a community consumes, the more garbage to be disposed of.

From a conservation standpoint, food wastes should be returned to the soil as a compost material. This adds both nutrients and organic materials to the soil which will increase its fertility. See Appendix C, for information on making a compost pile. A compost pile can be a family or a community project. If there is space available outside a health center, a demonstration compost pile can be built with organic wastes from the community members. When the compost is ready for garden use, it can form the basis for a demonstration garden, or can be divided among the community members for their own garden use.

Non-organic wastes such as metals or glass should be disposed of in a single community site, a large pit for example, to keep the community clean and free from litter. If possible, the disposal area should be visually separated from the community, either by distance or by a screen of plants.