New latrines
Two new latrines (divided by sex) designed for the local school of the community of Paniquines, Chinandega, Nicaragua. September 2021. @Felix Rugama (Plan International)
08.06.2023 - von Plan International, ZFRA

Improving basic sanitation in flood-prone areas of Nicaragua

[Zur deutschen Version] From August to November, rural communities in Chinandega, Nicaragua, are exposed to pluvial and coastal flood risks, which cause already poor water and sanitation facilities to malfunction. Using the Flood Resilience Measurement for Communities (FRMC), Plan International worked with members of four highly affected communities and identified basic sanitation as a key priority in increasing flood resilience.

Heavy rainfall floods latrines, risking human wastewater contaminating the groundwater and, in worst cases, the wells from which community members derive their drinking water. Between May and October 2021, Plan enabled access to safe-to-use latrines and water filters for clean drinking water for the most vulnerable families in the communities. In addition, Plan conducted a series of training sessions on the adequate use of the latrines and filters in order to maximize their lifespans.


Old latrine
One of the old latrines in the community of Paniquines, Chinandega, Nicaragua. April 2021. @Felix Rugama (Plan International)

The problem

The Flood Resilience Measurement for Communities (FRMC) study found the communities’ water and sanitation systems to be inadequate. Latrines were made from materials which often did not withstand flood impacts and were hard to maintain (see photo 1). The latrines were designed to be used for 2–3 years but were often used for 15+ years. Community members reported feeling unsafe whilst using the existing latrines due to their physical condition, and some latrines had ‘spy holes’ and therefore did not provide a safe space, especially for women, adolescents, and young girls. In the absence of alternatives, some people preferred to openly defecate rather than use unsafe latrines.

Water filters
The water filters distributed to a family from the community of Kilaca, Chinandega, Nicaragua. October 2021. @Walther Mendoza (Plan International)

The solution

To address the issue, Plan International worked with communities to identify families and individuals most exposed to flood risks due to location and old latrines. Plan International also partnered with the Nicaraguan Institute of Territorial Studies (INETER) to help construct latrines for local schools and provide training on their use and maintenance.

The new latrines consist of a septic tank, a metal hut, a roof cover, and a door (photo at the top). The design considered the highest water level from past floods, thus reducing the risk of wastewater overflow. These latrines are stronger than old latrines and can better withstand flood impacts. Communities are trained in their use and maintenance to guarantee their sustainability. The expected lifespan of these latrines is 15 years, serving a family of five people on average as well as local schools.

In addition, the new latrines are preventing human wastewater from entering the wells and are significantly contributing to the health of the recipient families and the natural environment. Plan International also decided to distribute water filters to the recipient families (photo 2). The families continue to collect water from the wells using a container, take it home, and then filter it to make it ready for consumption.

How does it increase resilience?

The new latrines are built to be more resilient than the old ones and can thus better withstand the impact of a flood. They do not contain any spy holes and therefore provide a safe space, especially for women, adolescents, and girls. The risk of contaminated drinking water from overflowing latrines has been significantly reduced. Furthermore, families can now filter their water, making it safe to drink, even if one of the latrines should be flooded during a future flood. Community members, including women, adolescents, and girls, participated in the design of this intervention, thus increasing ownership.

Overall, through the construction of 45 safe-to-use latrines, the distribution of 100 water filters, and training on their use and maintenance, Plan International has improved the health and safety of 500 individuals and has strengthened the resilience of the community as a whole.

Success story

Interview with community memebers

It is important to involve community members in the whole process as this creates a sense of ownership and, subsequently, ensures adequate use of the new facilities and thus the sustainability of the project. 

"It has been a step forward for the community. The number of infections has reduced, and we no longer have sick children or people with diarrhoea or fever at this time of year. It will be the same long term as we have safe drinking water now.” - Belén de Jesus Mejia Garcia, from the community of Kilaca, Chinandega, Nicaragua

One community member mentioned that it was much riskier for her son, who has a disability, to use the latrines during past floods as he could have had an accident. Now, the whole family is content because everyone can use a high-quality latrine and water filters.The latrines and water filters were directed at households at high risk of flooding and are now easily accessible to be used at all times.This intervention has increased the robustness of the local water and sanitation systems to withstand the impacts of future floods.

Listen to the interview with community members on how to improve water and sanitation access.

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