Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

MS in Environmental Engr. (M.S.E.V.)

Degree Granting Department

Civil and Environmental Engineering

Major Professor

James R. Mihelcic, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Maya A. Trotz, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Richard A. Nisbett, Ph.D.


Millennium Development Goals, school sanitation, sub-Saharan Africa, sustainable development


This thesis has three objectives as follows: 1) to investigate VIP latrine design and establish if the communal school VIP latrines located on the shared campus of Tubman Wilson Institute (TWI) Junior and Senior High School and J.C. Barlee Elementary School were properly designed and constructed, 2) to explore the user preferences and motivations impacting the adoption of these school latrines, and 3) to develop a framework for factors that influence latrine adoption. These goals were formed by the author in response to her Peace Corps experience working at a high school in Zwedru, Liberia from August 2012 to August 2014 and her personal background in appropriate sanitation and environmental engineering.

To complete the first thesis objective, the author conducted a detailed literature review and then compared accepted guidelines for VIP latrines to the sanitation facilities located on the TWI campus. The literature review investigated proper design of ventilated improved pit (VIP) latrines, school sanitation guidelines, and recommendations for sanitation in Liberia. The research focus latrines were two blocks of six stall multicompartment alternating twin-pit VIP latrines. The author conducted observations of the communal school latrines in order to compare the design and construction of these specific latrines to accepted criteria and recommendations from literature. It was found that the latrine vent pipes, cover slabs, drop holes, and pit design all appear to be designed and constructed per national Liberian and international recommendations. However, the TWI school latrines do not comply with standards for several other latrine design criteria. The latrine superstructures are built with privacy walls located in front of the boys’ and girls’ stalls and the entranceway doors do not have air gaps. These two features may impair critical odor-controlling air flow from the superstructure through the pit and out the vent pipe. The siting of the school latrines is also inconsistent with guidelines as the latrines are located too close to the classroom building and to the school’s water pump. Finally, the ratio of people to latrines on the shared TWI/J.C. Barlee campus is higher than the recommendation of 20-40 students per latrine, or when necessary 60 students per latrine.

The second research objective was to investigate user perceptions of the communal latrines and identify factors that motivate latrine adoption on the Liberian school campus. The design deficiencies identified in the evaluation of thesis objective one were found to impact the user preferences regarding the school latrines. This is apparent from user comments in the surveys that were conducted with 709 participants (students from grades four to twelve, administrators, faculty, and staff) at the study site. User perceptions of the cleanliness, safety, and comfort of the school facilities were varied. For example, 51% of total respondents (n = 709) expressed that the school latrines were dirty or very dirty, while 48% claimed the latrines were clean or very clean. When asked about the safety of the communal latrines, 52% of survey participants said the sanitation facilities were not safe or very unsafe; 47% asserted that the latrines were safe or very safe. Survey participants also had mixed responses about the comfort of the communal sanitation technology: 51% of the 709 survey participants stated that the latrines were not comfortable or very uncomfortable, while 46% declared the facilities were comfortable or very comfortable. The open-ended survey questions allowed respondents to comment on positive and negative aspects of the communal school VIP latrines. Again answers included various responses, but several key themes arose, including smell and odor, latrine construction components, presence of feces in and around the latrines, the use of the facilities by outside community members, and health impacts of latrine use.

The final thesis objective was to develop a framework of the factors that impact adoption of communal school latrines. The author originally assumed that user preferences and latrine adoption were directly correlated, but survey results suggest that the two factors may be independently influenced. This is based on the usage rates, 77% total survey participants stating that they use the latrines and 88% of these affirmative respondents explaining that they use the latrines daily, multiple times a week, or weekly. Although these adoption rates are quite high, satisfaction rates for latrine cleanliness, safety, and comfort are merely 50%, as previously described. VIP latrine design factors, like odor control and door construction, and communal sanitation facility characteristics, such as operation and maintenance, may prompt latrine adoption. Individual user traits, such as age, gender, and type and availability of household sanitation technology appear to have a lesser impact on latrine adoption. However, the grade level of the student respondents may have played a role in their responses because of the methods in which the survey was administered and the common practice of cheating.

Additional research should be conducted to further understand the factors that impact the adoption of communal sanitation facilities on school campuses. This study accomplished its three main research objectives, yet further research and practical applications must be applied to improve school sanitation in Liberia and worldwide.