Striving to ensure our toilets are sustainable

At Community Action Ghana we pride ourselves on working with communities to fulfil their needs, in the ways they want them – the communities’ priorities our priorities.

In 2019 we worked with the community of Alavanyo Dzogbedze to build a sustainable, community toilet. We are delighted to report that a recent survey found that 326 people are using the toilets.

At the communities’ request we worked together to build a Kumasi Ventilated Improved Pit (KVIP) toilet block. This is a well know toilet system in Ghana, developed locally at Kumasi Institute of Technology (now the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology).

Our KVIP toilet block in Alavanyo Dzogbedze

The sustainability aspect of these toilets is what was so important to us all. To show this, we’ll explain a little bit about how they work. The most important part of these toilets is the pit or the holding tanks. All the toilet deposits go into these tanks. They are designed to be very well ventilated so no, or little, smell goes back up into the cubicles. Any flies that follow their noses onto the poo are cunningly trapped in the tank until they die. If the flies could escape, they would carry germs on their legs and bodies, leading to fly borne diseases. With the KVIP model they can’t escape so this stops them spreading diseases.

In each toilet cubicle there are two squatting plates, and two toilet seats in the accessible cubicles. However, only one is opened initially, the other is sealed shut with a strong layer of concrete. Each tank is designed to hold about ten years, worth of deposits. The theory is, in ten years’ time when it is full, the initial plate will be sealed and the second chipped open to start filling the neighbouring holding tank. After about 20 years the contents of the first tank will have thoroughly composted killing any pathogens. This holding tank is then emptied, and the process starts again.

This sounds like a wonderfully, sustainable build designed to last decades.

However, when checking the toilets in Alavanyo Dzogbedze this month, we found that after just four years the initial tanks on the female side were full. And there was a smell coming from the toilets, which understandably those living closest to them were disturbed by. There was also rather an abundance of flies coming out of the toilets.

What was the problem?

The female toilets are in such demand, and so well used, that instead of the ten years expected to fill them, they have been filled in just four years. We see this as a good thing, illustrating the huge different these toilets are making, especially for the female members of the community, who use them the most. We sealed the first full tank and opened up the second empty tank so the ladies will start using an empty tank.We will keep monitoring the usage and report back, when the second tanks are full – to see if the first tank has composted thoroughly enough to destroy the pathogens and reopen to continue the substantiality of the toilets. 

What about the smell.

Sealing off the full holding tanks and opening the empty holding tanks should alleviate the smell problem as the smell was coming from the full tanks. We also went round the holding tanks and used mortar to seal any cracks and crevices that allowed smells to escape. After we had done this there was an immediate clearing of the air. We will continue to monitor the situation.

Opening up the empty tank and sealing off the full tank
Will a simple spring sort out the flys?

What about the flies?

The solution to this is simple, the toilets were designed so any flies that were attracted to the smell of the faeces would be trapped in the holding pits – unable to fly away to transmit diseases. However, even after educating the toilet users about the importance of closing the toilet doors to allow this process to take place, flies were still getting out – creating the possibility of disease. Our solution – attaching springs to the toilet doors to ensure they remain closed after use. Again, we will report back to check that this has continued to prevent fly borne diseases.

Cross section showing the ventilation and fly trapping design.

We are currently fundraising for another toilet block in Dorfor Adidome. Due to the terrain and location of the toilets they have requested a water based toilet system, so we will ensure these are as sustainable as possible and continue to learn and adjust when needed. The water tank system is more expensive than the KVIP’s and inflation in Ghana is dramatically affecting our budgets, so if you are able, we would really appreciate your support to ensure we can help another community live with toilets and combat disease.


A New Partnership: Community Toilets in Dorfor Adidome

We have set up a new partnership with the community of Dorfor Adidome to work together to build a community toilet block. 

Currently there are no toilets in the village, so they relive themselves in a pit which attracts flies and diseases. Records from the local health centre show that, on average, 40 children a year die of diarrhoea & fly born diseases here. That’s one in 30 families losing a child each year. 

As well as the much needed health benefits the toilets will also provide privacy & safety. We spoke to Mable and her daughter, Patricia. They don’t walk to the current toilet pit after dark for fear of  snakes & scorpions. With it getting dark at around 6pm that’s a long time to wait until the morning light so they are very much looking forward to the new addition to their community.


The streets are made from sand, gravel and shells as thousands of years ago this was the course of the Volta River. The river has changed course over the years but the muscles & clams remain for harvesting. 

Children playing amongst the shells

Due to the terrain and the location of the toilets, the community have requested a water closet system toilet. This entails drilling a borehole to produce enough water for the system.  As well as being used for the plumbing the borehole will also give supply of fresh water to the community. Currently they fetch water from the river which is now just over a kilometre away from the centre of the village.

We are delighted to be working with such a committed community. We visited them and agreed the partnership on Monday, by Tuesday they had a full work plan and by Tuesday they had worked together to gather enough sand to make blocks for the walls! We’ll keep you updated on the progress…

Collecting sand


Why does the toilet roof need replacing?

We built the toilets with the Alavanyo Dzogbedze community in 2019. They are well used – with people coming & going throughout the day. A recent survey found that at least 326 people and children are using the toilets, preventing diseases and providing dignity. But, unfortunately, the roofing on the female side has pretty much disintegrated.

Destroyed roof


We used aluminium sheeting for the roof to keep the cubicles cooler, the shiny aluminium reflects the sunlight. It should have been strong, rust free and lasted for years, in all weathers. But we didn’t consider the chemical reaction of the gasses in urine.

When urine decomposes it produces ammonia gas. At night, there is condensation on the underside of the roofing sheets which dissolves the ammonia, creating ammonium hydroxide. This ammonium hydroxide reacts with the aluminium to produce aluminium hydroxide, which is soluble. When the aluminium sheet on the roof turns into aluminium hydroxide it dissolves the roofing sheet and is washed away by the rain. In short: the urine dissolves the aluminium sheets.

The men’s side of the toilet block was not corroded at all. As we know, is far easier for men to wee, discretely in public, so they tend to only use the toilets for defecting. Whereas women need the privacy provided by toilets every time they need to go.

Good news

Removing the old roof

The good news is, now we have identified this, we have replaced the roofing. This time with galvanised iron sheeting which should last for many years. We will, of course, keep checking if our hypothesis is correct.

New roof


Restocking Libraries

Over the past few years we have refurbished and stocked libraries in the Volta Region of Ghana with huge support from Book Aid International and our donors.

Today, we revisited the libraries and, again with donations from Book Aid, have replenished their stock of books.

Wegbe EP School Library

It was great to meet Cynthia again. She’s now 14 and still loves reading. Her favourite subjects are now English & Science. This morning she was reading The Great Blue Yonder by Alex Shearer, which is already her new favourite book!

Wegbe EP School Library

Since we refurbished and stocked the library in 2021 it has been so well used that the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications (GIFEC) have funded & set up computer lab with 20 computers so the students get to read books and learn how to use the computers and important technological skills.

Alavanyo Senior High Technical School Library

The students are on leave here so Livingstone, the Librarian & Biology Teacher greeted us. He was very grateful for the extra boxes of books we delivered.

Livingstone & Adrian
Alavanyo Senior High Technical School Library.

As we looked through the well-thumbed books we noticed that some of them we on the wrong shelves. Livingstone explained, with a smile, that, the students hide their favourite books on the wrong shelves so they can get back to it when they return!

Pearl, the Library Prefect from last year, has graduated (and did very well in her exams) handed over the Prefect mantel to Peace, who is apparently as enthusiastic and dedicated to the library as Pearl was.

Alavanyo Wudidi Community Library

Rita Kpemasor the Librarian, at the Wudidi Community Library is always very busy. As well as supporting the students to find the right books for their studies she lends books to the rest of the community.

Even though the library is built in the school grounds the whole community has access, with many adults in the village delighted to be able to read for pleasure and learn from the books.

Alavanyo Wudidi Community Library

Thank you so much to Book Aid International for enabling all these people to read for both pleasure and for studying.