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

Qiong Zhang, Ph.D.


Bocas del Toro, Composting Latrine, ecological sanitation, Sustainable Development Goals, VIP latrine


At the end of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) period in 2015, 2.3 billion people, 31% of the global population, still did not have access to even basic sanitation services. Of these people, 892 million still practice open defecation, and 856 million people use unimproved facilities such as pit latrines without a slab or platform or hanging latrines or bucket latrines (JMP 2017). Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 6.2 now aims to achieve adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and sets the ambitious target of eradicating open defecation by 2030. While the number of people open defecating was reduced from 1229 million to 892 million between 2000 and 2015, that pace must accelerate to be achieved (JMP, 2017). In Panama, it is estimated that countrywide sanitation coverage is 71%, and rural coverage 54% (WHO/UNICEF, 2013). Even so, in indigenous areas like the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé, only 25% of the population has adequate access to basic sanitation (ANAM, 2006).

This research builds upon the research presented in (Hurtado, 2005, Kaiser, 2006, Mehl, 2008, and Wilbur, 2014). These theses researched double vault urine diverting (DVUD) latrines, or composting latrines, in indigenous communities in the province of Bocas del Toro and the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé in Panama. Hurtado, Kaiser, and Mehl researched the design, construction, and pathogen destruction capabilities of composting latrines. Wilbur studied how human attitudes and perceptions serve as incentives or barriers to composting latrine use. In this research surveys, interviews, and observations were recorded in 6 indigenous Ngäbe communities in Bocas del Toro and the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé. The study quantifies usage of ventilated improved pit (VIP) and basic pit latrines in these communities, assesses positive and negative perceptions of composting latrines, and determines perceptions of feces and the reuse of composted human excrement.

The results reveal that of n=103 latrines 88.3% were completed and in use, but only 35.2% were properly covered. To promote proper usage of latrines, continued education and trainings need to be carried out in these communities. Respondents were also favorable to the use of composting latrines, with 61.2% of respondents saying they would be interested in building a composting latrine for their households. The main perceived benefit of composting latrines is the compost, and the most identified barrier to use was lack of prior experience. Other main barriers included user disgust and the amount of work it takes to own and operate the latrine. There were more identified incentives (12) than barriers (11) to composting latrine adoption. Respondents also reported they would react more favorably to their neighbor implementing the technology and using compost than their neighbor would react should the respondent do the same thing. These results indicate the importance of pilot projects in communities, allowing people to see the benefits of the technology and how it works before implementing a larger scale project. These projects would also reduce the stigma associated with being a first adopter.

Statistical analysis revealed that the demographics of community, sanitation classification, gender, and primary occupation were significantly linked to survey statements used to measure perceptions on composting latrine use and the use of composted human excrement as a fertilizer. Age, gender, and household size were not found to have a statistically significant link to user perceptions on the same survey statements. Logistic regression analysis was then performed using SPSS statistical analysis software (version 24). The results of this research indicate the importance of setting up follow up trainings as many respondents had forgotten how to properly maintain their latrines. It also suggests the setup of pilot projects for composting latrines, as many respondents were favorable to the technology but did not want to try to own and operate a composting latrine without seeing a successful composting latrine first.