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
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
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
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,
The Sanitation Support Unit (SSU)
Ministry of Environment and Housing Office
Tel: +876 940 2933 4
Fax: +876 940 2935
Construction Resource &
11 Lady Musgrave Avenue
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
1989 ISBN 9 74820 063 9 38pp. pb (Intl.Ferrocement
Latrine Building: A handbook to implementing the Sanplat
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
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
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)
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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