The Child-Friendly Latrine Project - WHY?

Anyone who has ever used an open latrine can identify its shortcomings: there's a frightful stench and flies buzz around you. For a child that fears falling into the threatening hole, it is an especially frightening experience.

The utterly basic need to be able to rid oneself of his/her natural waste products comes to be a daily struggle against an inate opposition towards something that is absolutely dreadful. And for many children, this is something that quite simply elicits a sense of anxiety. They find other places to defecate - and this, in turn, poses yet another hygiene-related hazard.

This is part of everyday life for millions of people all over the globe who are residing in the world's refugee camps, rural villages and slum areas.

Motivated by this basic need, the designer Peter Bysted from the design consultancy, ICONO, and Professor Peter Kjær Mackie Jensen, head of the Disaster Management Master's program at the University of Copenhagen, have collaboratively developed a vision that is centred on creating a child-friendly latrine, which ought to help to diminish faecal-oral diseases through the fabrication of a safe and accepted place for children to use.



Every 20 seconds, a child dies - somewhere - of diarrhoea; as a consequence of poor hygienic conditions where diseases are transmitted through fecal-oral routes. This adds up to 1.5 million child deaths per year that are to a great extent preventable. It's often the case that the children themselves are the ones who spread the disease because they quite simply do not dare to make use of the antediluvian latrines that typically constitute the sum total of toilet facilities provided in refugee camps, in rural villages and in the world's slum quarters.

Inside a conventional latrine, there's generally nothing other than a deep pit that has been dug into the earth. Laid over this pit is a crude squatting board made of either concrete or wood with a hole cut in the middle through which the user can relive him/herself. The latrine's contents can be smelled and seen, while flies and other insects have full access. Moreover, the materials chosen for constructing the latrine often prove to be difficult to clean, only further aggravating the poor hygienic situation and making room for pathogenic helminths and their eggs.

"One of the major reasons why children do not use existing latrines is that they are simply afraid of falling down into the ghastly hole. We're trying to solve this problem by supplying the drain hole with an airtight and smooth seal. We're also aiming at making it possible for mothers and children to be together at the same time inside the space," explains Peter Kjær Mackie Jensen, head of the Disaster Management Master's program at the University of Copenhagen.



A hanging latrine in Haiti.


• 1.8 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases (including cholera);
90% of these people are children under the age of 5, who reside chiefly in developing countries.
• 88% of diarrhoeal disease can be attributed to unsafe water supply, inadequate sanitation and hygiene.
• Improved water supply can reduce diarrhoeal morbidity by 6% to 25%.
• Improved sanitation reduces diarrhoeal morbidity by 32%.
• Hygiene interventions including hygiene education and promotion of hand washing can lead to a reduction of diarrhoeal cases by up to 45%.
• Improvements in drinking-water quality through household water treatment, such as chlorination at point-of-use, can lead to a reduction of diarrhoeal episodes between 35% and 39%.

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"The innovative design from ICONO provides, as far as I can see, the most needed improvements of "rapid latrines" that we are looking for: it is safe and comfortable for children, it can easily be fitted for disabled with a temporary stool - and on top of that it is much easier to keep clean than the present designs of latrines"

William Carter, The International Federation of Red Cross

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"The goal is not so much to bring forth some high-tech solution but rather to develop a simple, robust, and flexible latrine that will solve basic challenges and that can rapidly get out there in emergencies and do some good. The sanitation topic has become so weighted down with various taboos. This might be one of the reasons that there are very few imaginative solutions to the problems that have turned up. People in refugee camps all over the world live with miserable circumstances that are very hard to fathom," says Peter Bysted, partner in ICONO A/S.


Latrine at Jalozi refugee camp in Pakistan.