"Improved" with mud vs concrete slab?

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"Improved" with mud vs concrete slab?

Hi All

I'm struggling to find clarification about whether an improved toilet ('basic' in SDGs terminology) needs to have a concrete slab or is a mud/wood slab adequate. Can anyone provide clarification with references?

I found the following clues/opinions (and the JMP site seemed brief on definitions):

"Cement slabs are obviously easier to clean. But from our experience in Mali, technically, the lateritic mud + wooden structure platforms can be cleaned: the platform needs to be swept regularly ..... Following these minimum standards, lateritic mud platform latrines built under CLTS can be considered as improved sanitation"
UNICEF Mali ref www.unicef.org/wcaro/CLTS_vs_JMP_Mali.pdf

"a dry pit latrine that uses a hole in the ground to collect the excreta and a squatting slab or platform that is firmly supported on all sides, easy to clean and raised above the surrounding ground level to prevent surface water from entering the pit. The platform has a squatting hole, or is fitted with a seat..... many stakeholders remain uncertain whether pit latrines with non-concrete slabs, particularly those with mud or earth covered floors, qualify as an improved sanitation facility. " UNICEF Sanitation Monitoring Toolkit. ref : www.sanitationmonitoringtoolkit.com/sani...al-sanitation-access

Thanks
Andy
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Re: "Improved" with mud vs concrete slab?

OK, I think I answered my own question:

"The international indicator for measuring achievement of sanitation goals is the ‘proportion of population with access to improved sanitation’. For this international indicator, the new, standardized definition of an acceptable ‘sanitary facility’ is a flush facility that flushes to a piped sewer system, septic tank, or pit (latrine); a ventilated improved pit latrine; a pit latrine with a slab, or a composting latrine. A pit latrine with a slab is defined as a dry pit latrine whereby the pit is fully covered by a slab except for the seat or drop hole. The slab can be made of any material. " MICS4 Manual for Designing Questionnaires here

About MICS4 "in preparation for SDG monitoring, the JMP has collaborated with the UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) programme to develop and test new questions and indicators which fill data gaps regarding sanitation services. " here: washdata.org/monitoring/sanitation
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Re: "Improved" with mud vs concrete slab?

Thanks for your question and (own) answer, Andy! So the slab can be made of any material to count towards SDG6. I thought so but wasn't totally sure so thanks for digging out the reference for this!
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Re: "Improved" with mud vs concrete slab?

Hello Elisabeth and Andy,

Based on a recent discussion and experience I had. There still seems to be quite some debate out there on whether a slab made out of mud as opposed to concrete can be considered as a significant step up the sanitation ladder. The concrete slab is cleanable and safer and some organisations do not qualify latrines with mud slabs as actually falling in the category of improved facilities. Two years on from this discussion, is there new knowledge on this discussion?

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Chaiwe
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Re: "Improved" with mud vs concrete slab?

Also from  WHO. ‘Guidelines on Sanitation and Health’, 2018, Chapter 3:

In remote rural areas, for example, where the availability of materials is a limiting factor and/or the cost of transporting a durable slab from a local town is considered too high, households should at least cover any wooden squatting slab with a coating of mortar. This approach should allow the slab to be cleaned more effectively and therefore limit exposure; however, it will not be durable and may need replacing before the pit has filled.

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Re: "Improved" with mud vs concrete slab?

I've found the needle in the haystack!

This from:  Core questions on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene for household surveys: 2018 update. New York: United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organization, 2018. - from Table 3: Monitoring definitions for sanitation facilities, p.12

4. The principal difference between improved and unimproved pit latrines is the presence of a ‘slab’. Pit latrines with slabs that completely cover the pit, with a small drop hole, and are constructed from materials that are durable and easy to clean (e.g. concrete, bricks, stone, fiberglass, ceramic, metal, wooden planks or durable plastic) should be counted as improved. Slabs made of durable materials that are covered with a smooth layer of mortar, clay or mud should also be counted as improved.

[/i]I think we can close this topic!

Thanks :)
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Re: "Improved" with mud vs concrete slab?

I am delighted to see this Andy. A needle in the haystack indeed! 

This was a whole topic of discussion and constructive argument shaping a Mid-term evaluation on the calcification of facilities constructed in Rural  Zambia. Luckily the majority of participants discussed in favor of the definition you have shared. This qualifies the results of that MTR.

Glad this is now up here for anyone else who may be searching.

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Re: "Improved" with mud vs concrete slab?

What a great WASH subject to invite some critical thinking from around the world! 

Andy's initial post was from 3 years ago, and despite my own research and implementation on this same subject of latrine slabs, I'm still confused as to what should constitute improved or unimproved on the basis of slabs. In short; the topic ain't closed! And like all good WASH topics, it probably needs to stay wide open in order to invite a  growing and  evolving discussion.

Here's the thing: Many concrete slabs on latrines (I would say most of the ones I've seen in low income areas in Haïti) are poorly constructed and not easy to clean. Households are encouraged to invest in them (because, after all, that's how the WHO folks in Geneva and their International Development partners will count them towards 'improved') but they are usually too expensive (they can cripple a family's finances), they are often poorly executed, and they almost always have no means of emptying. 

I'm not offering a clear answer or solution. On the contrary, my argument is that 'improved' vs 'unimproved' is highly nuanced and requires local context adaptation. A more useful 'bottom up' approach to characterisation and monitoring of toilets, could be to have National registers of toilet constructors and toilet models which have been locally certified as 'improved' (defined according to local norms AND international best practice) which households can then invest in with more confidence. Such a register could then be used for targeted subsidies for toilets which meet certain local quality standards. And if these local quality standards and systems contribute towards increasing sanitation coverage, does it really matter if they vary from the WHO prescriptions? Who in the world of toilet construction actually reads WHO documents anyway?

I know that such registers exist in some countries, so I'm not proposing any brand new thinking here. But I would like to invite those who wrestle with WHO standards to share their own stories on 'improved' vs 'unimproved', from the perspective of slabs or anything else toilet-related. Do the WHO definitions help you in providing products and services to households? Or are they just there to support the 'box ticking' during your WASH program's Monitoring & Evaluation activities? 

There you have it Andy: I'll raise your 'needle in a haystack' and open a 'can of worms'!

Keep on sharing!

Anthony.  
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Re: "Improved" with mud vs concrete slab?

Thanks all for your builds on this topic. And I agree that the book is not closed on this.

And, the plot has just thickened...

I have a copy on my computer (attached) of "Core questions on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene for household surveys: 2018 update"  in which it says "Slabs made of durable materials that are covered with a smooth layer of mortar, clay or mud should also be counted as improved." (p.12, Table 3, point 4)

but on all copies on google I find the sentence removed.

How can this be??? Did this discussion prompt further discussion in the ivory towers who wanted to close this can of worms we opened on this forum? There's probably a very simple conclusion to this mystery, but I do like a good conspiracy theory......

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Re: "Improved" with mud vs concrete slab?

Concrete toilets could be treated in much the same way that pottery water filter pots are, using concentrated 'colloidal silver.' Two brands come to mind: Microdyn and Biopur. If I remember correctly, both are 3.2% silver, in a dispersent. Painting this onto the porous surfaces of the concrete should prevent pathogens growing on this. 
All the best, Reid
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Here is a video presentation that gives an overview of ceramic WASH and development interventions:
Harvey, Anthony Reid (2021): Sanitary stoneware toilets: production closer to the need. Loughborough University. Conference contribution. hdl.handle.net/2134/16941193.v1
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Re: "Improved" with mud vs concrete slab?

Dear Andy and  Anthony,

This discussion gets more interesting. Perhaps ''a can of worms'' indeed!

Andy your observation here comes as a shock. I quote:

I have a copy on my computer (attached) of "Core questions on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene for household surveys: 2018 update"  in which it says "Slabs made of durable materials that are covered with a smooth layer of mortar, clay or mud should also be counted as improved." (p.12, Table 3, point 4)

but on all copies on google I find the sentence removed.

There should be some serious reasons behind this, is there a way we can rope in the relevant players into this discussion? Do either of you know who we can reach out to, to find out what really happened here?

My two cents about this entire debate on what constitutes 'Improved' vs 'Unimproved' comes down to whether a facility is cleanable or not and whether it is adequately built to prevent disease. Anyone who has visited Latrines in Sub-saharan Africa knows that no matter how smooth a Mud slab is, it cannot be sanitised (washed with soap and water) enough to protect a user to the extent that a concert slab can....

Chaiwe
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