Completion of latrine construction marks the beginning of the real sanitation programme in that it is the point at which people can start to realize the benefits of their investment. Continuing health education and technical assistance are required to ensure that new systems function properly. For example, longer-term assistance may be required to ensure that double pits are emptied and used in rotation.
Some householders may benefit from advice as to how to encourage all members of their family to use the facility in a clean and safe way. Laver (1986) described how local potters were taught to make ceramic tiles depicting good habits of latrine use, which could be fixed permanently on the latrine walls to act as a constant reminder of good practice.
Use of hard cleaning materials such as stones and corncobs leads to increased rate of sludge accumulation, and hence to a shortened life for the pit or tank before emptying or to blockages in water seals or pipes. Members of the community should be told about the effects of using such bulky cleansing materials, and encouraged to find alternatives. Where it is not the custom to use water for anal cleansing, leaves, grass or paper are preferable. Details of the maintenance required for different types of latrine can be found in Chapter 6.
The latrine superstructure, like all buildings, needs regular maintenance to ensure that it remains structurally sound and pleasing to use.
Responsibility for maintenance must never be left undecided until the need becomes apparent. By that time many people will have stopped using the facility and returned to their old places. The latrine itself may have become so unpleasant that it is more difficult to find somebody to care for it regularly. Maintenance becomes a particular problem where an agency has been constructing sanitation systems for people without their full involvement in planning and design. If householders are unsure of the ownership of the system they are less likely to accept responsibility for looking after it.
The householder or user has primary responsibility for using and maintaining the latrine. The agency may have to assist in two areas: (1) ensuring the availability of special items such as vent-pipe screening; and (2) the provision of services requiring special equipment, such as pit emptying. Initial demand may not be sufficient for private traders to stock specialized vent screening or plastic water seals. While this demand builds up, the agency should ensure that such items may still be purchased from a public health department after completion of the construction phase. Where double pits are used, the householder should empty the pit at regular intervals, using the dry sludge on the land as a fertilizer. Where single pits require mechanical emptying, particularly in urban areas, an organization should be established or the local council should run vacuum tankers at an affordable cost to the householder.