Biodigesters come to the rescue of students who lack safe toilets

Tuesday May 28 2019

The boys toilet that collapsed at Pokotomo Primary School in Kenya's Turkana County.

The boys toilet that collapsed at Pokotomo Primary School in Kenya's Turkana County. PHOTO | ANGELA OKETCH 

ANGELA OKETCH
By ANGELA OKETCH
More by this Author

For a year now, some 1,000 boys who school at Pokotomo Primary school in Kenya’s Turkana County have not had a toilet after the facility they were using collapsed, forcing them to use the nearby thickets.

The 500 girls at the school share a two-door toilet.

This situation is worrying the head teacher David Namoru, who is now considering alternatives lest the school is shut down.

“It’s against the law to run a school without a decent toilet for students. One of these days, public health officers will close the school,” he said, adding that they may have to tweak the budget and spend money on locally available materials to build a toilet for the boys. It gets trickier as the soil is sandy, meaning only experts can put up a safe latrine.

Pokotomo’s case is illustrative of the problem schoolgoing children, especially those in public schools, have to endure when it comes to sanitation facilities.

According to Kenya’s National School Health Policy, new toilets are needed in 10,000 institutions across the country. In 10,000 other schools, they need renovation to meet World Health Organisation recommendations of a toilet for every 25 girls and one for every 35 boys.

Advertisement

A report on school toilets released by Water Aid earlier this year found that one in three schools around the world does not have decent toilets, and one in five primary schools and one in eight secondary schools do not have toilets at all. The report notes that children who lack decent school toilets are forced to run home at break time to relieve themselves or use the bushes around the school.

However, a sanitation programme started with the World Vision Kenya seeks to turn filled up toilets in the region into a source of energy.

“It is not easy to construct a new toilet but using a biodigester, we can drain the filled up toilets, which in return will generate energy for lighting the kitchen and laboratories,” said Henry Kibet, World Vision Kenya, Wash co-ordinator in Lokichogio.

So far, some filled up toilets in 10 schools in the region have been converted into flush facilities, with their contents diverted through pipes to an underground biodigester.

A biodigester is a mechanised system that decomposes human waste in a tank using high graded bacteria further converting it into methane and water, which is discharged to the surface. The system comprises a prefabricated toilet shelter, a biodigester tank, and associated items such as overhead water tank, wash basin, tiles, squatting pan and urinal. It costs about Ksh10 million ($100,000) to install one biodigester.

The organisation has so far built two digesters and is planning to roll out the project to other needy schools.

The only challenge, Mr Kibet said, was the pupils’ disposing of sanitary towels in the toilets, thus blocking the pipes.

“In future, we will consider building receptacles to dump the sanitary towels because when the pipes are blocked it brings down the whole programme,” he said.