Flying Toilets

ftOccasionally two worlds will collide around me and I try to take notice and learn how one relates to another.  To quote the great Ron Thomason of Dry Branch Fire Squad, “I told you that to tell you this.” 

So here is the that, one of the sessions I attended at GreenBuild was concerning sustainably in developing countries.  (see GreenBuild – Catch Up)  From that session, the idea of flying toilets keeps banging around in my brain.  The concept is so unimaginably detestable for someone who has never been faced with such living conditions.  This puts the term “roughing it” in a whole other category.

Let me define the term for you just in case you have never heard it before.  A Flying Toilet is the act of flinging a tied up plastic bag of excrement as far as one can fling such a thing in order to get it as far away from your living quarters.   The lack of efficient and modern sanitation is an everyday reality for some developing countries.  Some countries have even gone so far to try to rectify the situation by making the possession of plastic bags illegal.  Enter the country of Rwanda and those baggies will all be confiscated at the airport.

Now for the this, last week there was a story in the news about the cholera and how it was killing so many in Zimbabwe.  The water systems are not able to handle the disease and it is spreading. The poor sanitation and seasonal rains are at the root of the cholera outbreak.  What passes for a toilet in these areas can be as few as 1 for every 250 people.  This is real and now.  The solution to build more toilets is slow. 

I have to say that I don’t fully understand the complete situation but to me the reality that these people face everyday is unthinkable.  I don’t have an answer or a happy ending for this problem but just wanted to educate readers about this tremendous problem.  As an architect I feel it is partly a duty to improve on the human condition, wherever that may be.  Perhaps this will be an obstacle for you ponder during the next long line for the bathroom you find yourself in.

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2 Responses to “Flying Toilets”


  1. 1 sociolingo December 8, 2008 at 5:58 am

    Hi, thank you for this post. You are very right in your reactions. The sad thing is that there are well-tried pit toilet designs (so-called ‘squat and drop’) which are not expensive to provide. In many societies there is also the concept of ‘wet toilets’ and ‘dry toilets’. To us this seems a slightly alien concept but it is surprisingly hygienic. The basic idea being u keep the excrement pit as dry as possible which reduces flies, cross-contamination etc. Urine is voided in the ‘washing place’ which is frequently washed down with soapy water which drains out. Hi-tech solutions, running water toilets etc are luxuries. A decent pit toilet using locally sourced materials is a basic necessity. Unfortunately these are not attractive to aid agencies and other providers who prefer to import western-style sit-toilets which are almost impossible to maintain hygienically. One major area that needs to be addressed is toilets for schools. I have been in schools where there are just 6 toilets (of unimaginable condition) for hundreds of children. Children (particularly girls) huddle round each other as they pee on the ground.

    Sorry for the rant. As u can see I feel strongly about the issue too!

  2. 2 kim327 December 8, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    You are welcome to rant here anytime. I appreciate the continuing education. A “squat and drop” type deep pit design is basically two treads and hole. They would make the most sense to me to incorporate into a world that is starting from basically nothing.


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