Local ‘loos’ saving lives in Indonesia

Semerang latrines
One of the new latrines with its local owner

Many Australians spend a good deal of time contemplating life in the smallest room in the house, but few realise that the ‘porcelain throne’ is not just an item of convenience — it’s a valuable tool for preventing disease. At the 2nd International Seminar on Public Health and Education (ISPHE) in Semerang, Indonesia this week; toilet-talk was squarely on the agenda.

In a paper presented by Dr. Budi Laksono (Faculty of Public Health, State University of Semarang), Professor Donald Stewart and Dr Ross Sadler (Menzies Health Institute’s Population and Social Health Research Centre, Griffith University) the research team discussed the findings from a long-term toilet building project in Semarang.

According to one estimate, says Professor Stewart, “only 63% of the world’s population has access to a sanitation facility that ensures hygienic separation of human excreta from human contact; that leaves over 2.5 billion people without access to improved sanitation – 1.1 billion still practice open defecation.”

In rural Indonesia open defecation is common. Proper latrines are available to only about 35% of the rural population.

“Our project will test a latrine designed for local people using local materials in resource poor rural communities and emergency situations, to investigate reduced parasite (Helminth) infection and reduced environmental pollution. With colleagues in Semarang, Central Java, Indonesia, and in collaboration with Diponegoro University we are investigating the health benefits and impact on environmental pollution of the latrine.”

Many village people suffer unnecessarily from parasites, such as whip worm, pin worm or hookworm, yet it is possible to get rid of parasitic infections. Having a cheap, easy to build, effective latrine, particularly a model that works well in both wet and dry seasons, is a major step forward to clear worms out of the village.There are important benefits from improved sanitation and hygiene, for example, worm-free children can flourish physically and can concentrate in school and learn better. Parasites can sap energy, making people tired and unable to do their work.

Three years ago Griffith University researchers conducted public health research into the district of Mijen Gunungpati in Semerang and found that 60 wells in the region had levels of nitrate measuring well above levels recommended by the World Health Organisation. Since then a latrine building and sanitation measurement project funded by Swiss Bank philanthropy has not only reduced the nitrate levels in the drinking water but improved the overall sanitation of the area.

“Currently there are 38 villages in the district Banyumanik, district and sub-district Tembalang Ngaliyan doing toilet building programs and 32 other villages outside the three districts are doing the same” said Dr. Budi Laksono from the Faculty of Public Health, State University of Semarang.

“We provide incentives, with assistance from local authorities to promote the construction of a Katajaga (City Village Family toilet) and the response has been enthusiastic. Through this program we can show that with the construction of a Katajaga, bad toilet habits can be abandoned and the cleanliness of the river water and the garden can be maintained”

The seminar was opened by Rector Prof. Dr. Fathur Rokhman and Director Prof Dr H Ahmad Slamet from Semarang State University. The conference also featured a number of international guest speakers including Evaristo Soares (East Timor Ministry of Public Health), Ratha Phok (Cambodia), and Bashir Lakhal Kes (Department of Public Health, Lybia).