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FILM | A Clean Concern - Jamaica


In the period 1986 to 1990, the population of Jamaica grew by an estimated 1% per annum. The 1991 census showed that the population stood at 2,374,193. Increased urbanisation has resulted in over half of the population now living in cities and towns. Tremendous pressure has been placed on the island's supply of housing and the growth in squatter settlements is accelerating rapidly. They are developing in vulnerable areas without access to acceptable sewage disposal, garbage collection and domestic water facilities.

Improper sewage disposal facilities are a serious threat to vital water systems. There is no clean water to drink due to contamination and the risk of contracting typhoid, cholera and other water born diseases is high.

Informal Settlements in Jamaica
Norwood and Rose Heights are two squatter settlements situated on the outskirts of Montego Bay. These communities are hidden in the hills, behind the town, on rocky terrain. The basic water supply and sanitation infrastructure has been non-existent. Children have the burden of carrying water to the homes which they collect two or three times a day. It is a difficult and heavy task, especially if the local pipe is dry, and they have to go to a tank further away.
The communities have, in the past, used plastic bags or the bush as a substitute for a toilet and these poor hygiene and sanitation practices have presented a further danger to good health.
The Construction Resource and Development Centre and the Sanitation Support Unit

The Construction Resource and Development Centre (CRDC) organised a branch office - the Sanitation Support Unit (SSU) - to carry out the sanitation programme in the Montego Bay area. One of the key components of the project was the development and construction of sanitary facilities which would meet the requirements of the Public Health Inspectors of the Jamaican Ministry of Health.
Absorption Pits

The absorption pit works like a natural filter and whatever is put into it filters through the sides into the soil where it breaks down and becomes harmless. Faeces, toilet paper, urine and soot from the chimney can all be put into an absorption pit and will be broken down effectively. Rubbish such as plastic bags, diapers, sanitary towels, waste water left over from the kitchen or bath or washing and other household garbage, must not be placed into the absorption pit because it will block up the sides and nothing else will be able to filter out.

Construction of an Absorption Pit

An absorption pit only takes three days to construct. First, the ground is blasted to loosen the soil and then the digging begins. Each pit must be at least three metres deep. Before the top of the pit is sealed with bamboo and cement, a "soak away" test is carried out to check that if the pit is filled with water, it will be absorbed into the soil. Absorption pits are not always the best solution and will not be effective if the soil is not permeable. Soil percolation tests are performed only when there is concern that the absorption pits will not absorb wastes at the appropriate rate. Where this is the case, they become holding tanks which require periodic extraction of the wastes by specialised septic tank pumping equipment. If the soil proves to be permeable, then a small, enclosed building can be constructed over the pit to allow the occupant privacy.
Absorption pits are sealed with concrete covers eight feet in diameter. Each one has an eighteen inch by eighteen inch lid which is tightly sealed to the pit structure. The tight seal acts as a safety measure to prevent children gaining access to the ten feet deep absorption pits. If necessary, the seal can be broken by using a chisel.

Any large crevices in absorption pits are sealed in case they are connected to sinkholes. Sinkholes are natural passages or tubes in limestone which function as a direct channel for transporting waste to the sea. If a sinkhole is hit directly during construction, a new excavation site must be found.

There are four main criteria which must be fulfilled to ensure that an absorption pit will be effective:
dig deep enough, do not make the bottom of the pit too narrow, measure the pit, and use adequate amounts of cement and reinforcement. In the event of a pit being rock to a depth of ten feet, the contractors must excavate to deeper depths to access permeable soils. The concrete curing rates are dependent on the weather conditions.

The typical cost of a contractor-installed absorption pit is J$40,000. The services of the SSU cost about J$4,500 and other construction materials, including the toilet, the door, piping, a steel reinforcement bar, concrete block, sand, cement and stone cost about J$14,500. Therefore, J$60,000 (approximately US$1,670) needs to be made available in order to finance the complete construction of a pit.

Tips for Staying Healthy
Absorption pits can alleviate the problems of health hazards. However, education is the key to successful long term sanitation and hygiene. The SSU has set up a programme for educating children and it provides advice for staying healthy.

Make sure that faeces is put in the proper place for disposal, for example, a pit laterine or flush toilet. Germs live and breed in dirt - make sure that toilet areas are cleaned and disinfected regularly. The toilet should not be close to the water source - germs can get into the water supply and make everyone sick. When washing babies and nappies, the water becomes very dirty and should be disposed of in a toilet or laterine. A separate tub should be used and cleaned properly afterwards.

Water Handling and Storage
Water should be stored in clean, covered containers. Drinking water containers should be poured from rather than dipping into the top - as hands or the dipping cup can spread germs.

Water that has been in a container for more than 24 hours should be boiled or chlorinated before drinking.
The most common way to spread germs is by the hands. Make sure that you and your family wash your hands regularly with soap and clean water. Dry your hands with a clean towel or air dry them.

For further information, please contact:

The Sanitation Support Unit (SSU)
Ministry of Environment and Housing Office
Albion Road
Montego Bay
West Indies
Tel: +876 940 2933 4
Fax: +876 940 2935

Construction Resource & Development Centre,
11 Lady Musgrave Avenue
Kingston 10
West Indies
Tel: +876 978 4061 / +876 978 8454
Fax: +876 978 4062

ITDG would like to thank the Construction Resource and Development Centre and the Sanitation Support Unit for providing the original information on absorption pits and USAID who provided the funding for the project.

Further reading related to this subject:

Developing and Managing Community Water Supplies
Jan Davis, Gerry Garvey and Michael Wood
Based on direct field experience this book discusses the issues and stages in the development of water supplies, from the initiation of a programme through to the community management of the supply. The authors are experienced Oxfam water fieldworkers.
1993 ISBN 0 85598 193 8 178pp. Pb (Oxfam) £8.95

Ferrocement Pour-Flush Latrine
Ariston Trinidad and Lilia Robles-Austriaco
A comprehensive instruction manual which aims to improve sanitation. It describes the construction of a ferrocement pour-flush latrine especially designed for low-income people in developing coutnries and includes relevant sanitation concepts.
1989 ISBN 9 74820 063 9 38pp. pb (Intl.Ferrocement Info.Ctr.) £2.50

Latrine Building: A handbook to implementing the Sanplat system
Bjorn Brandberg
This book describes a practical solution to the lack of basic sanitation facilities in the form of a 'Sanplat': a specially designed concrete platform which can be installed easily in rural latrines to improve sanitation and safety. It has footrests to help users find the right position to avoid fouling the latrine; the drop hole is large enough to use comfortably and small enough to be completely safe, even for a child; and it is easy to keep clean. The latrines described here can be built using locally available materials and skills, and are affordable and appropriate to the needs of rural communities.
1997 ISBN 1 85339 306 1 208pp. pb (ITP) £9.95

Low-cost Sanitation: A survey of practical experience
John Pickford
About two billion people in the world have no adequate sanitation provision. This book is a guide to what has been learned about providing sanitation coverage for both rural and urban low-income communities, and outlines what is appropriate, practical and acceptable.
1995 ISBN 1 85339 233 2 176pp. pb (ITP) £9.95

Sanitation without Water
Uno Winblad
1985 ISBN 0 333 391 40 3 pb (Macmillan) £6.25

Small Scale Sanitation
R. Feachem and A. M. Cairncross
An extremely useful introduction to a range of sanitation techniques, with abundant detail on smaller systems from pit privies to sewerage systems.
1988 ISBN 0 90099 508 4 54pp. pb (Ross Institute) £5.50

Water Treatment and Sanitation
H. T. Mann and D. Williamson
A handbook of simple methods for rural areas in developing countries. This corrected and revised impression includes a new appendix on planning in developing towns.
1982 ISBN 0 903031 23 X 96pp. pb (ITP) £6.95

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TVE/ITDG gratefully acknowledge support for the HANDS ON programmes from the UK's Department for International Development (DFID), the European Commission (EC), the UN Foundation and UNDP/The Equator Initiative in collaboration with the Government of Canada, IDRC, IUCN, BrasilConnects and the Nature Conservancy.


2003 Development Planning Unit | Sikandar Hasan | Anna Soave | Khanh Tran-Thanh || Tina Simon