World Toilet Day: Arbor Loos Do Double Duty

Mayling Simpson-Hebert, a CRS regional technical advisor in East Africa, shares her dream of 100 percent sanitation coverage across the globe.

Happy World Toilet Day! Although it may be hard to believe, almost 40 percent of the world’s population has no access to a toilet. Imagine it: More than one out of every three people living on earth relieves themselves in the open.

Arbor Loo

Arbor loos are inexpensive toilets that first serve sanitation needs then later provide a rich source of nutrients for fruit trees. In Ethiopia, a family has built a basic privacy fence around the concrete toilet slab of this arbor loo. Photo by CRS Staff.

Simple toilets can make a significant health impact. Many families, though, are either unable to afford proposed latrine designs or simply don’t buy into the benefits. But one model, the “arbor loo,” is making headway. Designed by Peter Morgan in Zimbabwe for the African situation, it is affordable for most rural African households.

Key to the arbor loo’s success is how it serves double duty: first as a basic toilet, then as an extremely fertile pit for a fruit tree. The design provides a wealth of benefits:

– Arbor loo pits are just three feet deep, enabling anyone—even the elderly—to dig a latrine hole in half a day or less.

Arbor Loo

Once a pit fills, the toilet slab is moved to a new location, and the old pit’s fertile soil helps planted fruit trees thrive. Photo by CRS staff.

– Each concrete toilet slab costs $7 to $20 depending upon the country, and local masons can earn an income making them.

– People put a cup of ash and soil mixture into the pit after each latrine use to discourage flies, eliminate smells and promote soil composting.

– When an arbor loo pit fills up—usually in a few months for a family of five—families can easily dig a new pit, pick up the slab and relocate their latrine.

– The fertile soil of each filled pit serves as the perfect location to plant a fruit tree. Control tests show arbor loo trees rarely die off in early days and produce significantly more fruit than trees planted in regular soil.

– Families quickly reap household benefits. Diarrhea decreases, medical bills drop, and the amount of food on the table increases. Any excess fruit grown—typically papayas, avocados, mangos, bananas or pumpkins—can also be sold for added income.

To grow more fruit more quickly, households soon require every member to always use the arbor loo, significantly improving sanitation conditions. Friends and neighbors without a toilet are even invited over to use the loo.

Since 2006, Catholic Relief Services has supported construction of more than 38,000 arbor loos in rural Ethiopian communities—on average, more than 1,000 a month. Soon CRS will be piloting the design in Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. Who would have ever thought that a toilet could also improve food security?

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3 Responses to “World Toilet Day: Arbor Loos Do Double Duty”

  1. Rita Russo Says:

    We need these toilets in Haiti. You should make an instruction sheet available for translation into local languages. It is a wonderful concept.

  2. Jennifer Dellegrazio Says:

    They already are being built in Haiti, since 2006! See: – run by Gigi Pomerantz in Milwaukee WI. I think they are looking for volunteers to help this summer in Haiti!

  3. Jack dody Says:

    I love the arbor loo because it can be so easily adapted to different cultures (squat toilets, those that use water to wash, etc).

    We have used a sawdust toilet for the last ten years. The advantages of using sawdust over using soil are many: no odor, greater water holding capacity in drought- prone areas, etc.

    Our suggestion would be to use more leaves, hay etc and less soil.

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