To find the most effective solutions to pit-filling, we need to know what affects the rate and extent of latrine content breakdown.
Our comprehensive Literature Review assessed more than 115 papers and reports to find out what was already known. This allowed us to identify the gaps in knowledge which we’d need to fill with our own research.
The review found several key insights:
- The digestion process of pit latrine content is very complex, involving a wide range of different organisms which are very sensitive to their environment
- Pit latrines are essentially uncontrolled environments, so it’s no surprise that in most cases decomposition is sub-optimal and pits fill up too fast
- In principle, if we could identify what’s slowing or blocking the process, the solution could be quite simple – for example, changing the pH
- Pit latrines contents are highly variable due to diet, habits and surrounding soil type.
Based on these insights, we developed a working hypothesis to test with our own research:
Pit latrines are inefficient in digesting organic matter because neither aerobic nor anaerobic processes can work effectively for long enough, due to inappropriate and uncontrolled environments. Both processes stall, resulting in slow or incomplete breakdown of pit contents.
Latrine Studies Framework
To test this hypothesis, we set key parameters to explore in our studies of pit latrines. These include:
- Indicators of aerobic and anaerobic digestion
- Potential factors regulating or inhibiting decomposition, eg. pH, temperature, moisture, redox (oxygen)
- Microbial communities and diversity
- Presence of higher organisms (eg. light microscopy)
- Substrate availability (biochemistry studies).
Through these parameters, we’ll understand more about pit environments, which will help in the development of interventions to stimulate content decomposition.