The recent Christchurch earthquake is giving many of us cause to review our emergency planning. We are told to store 3 litres of water per person for 3 days and have a contingency plan for disposal of human waste…
Sunday 13th March 2011
During the nearly three weeks since the Christchurch earthquake of Tuesday 22nd February we have been subjected to a barrage of movie footage and images showing injuries, rescues, collapsing and collapsed buildings, flooded streets and trashed houses.
With Christchurch now in a recovery phase, the immediacy of survival has been replaced with the daily grind of living with privation. A significant number of Christchurch residents are still without electricity, running water and adequate toilet facilities. It is shocking that such conditions should exist here in New Zealand, and throws those affected back to the Victorian era. However, it is reality in an area which has experienced a seriously damaging earthquake.
A few of us have experienced the classic kiwi long-drop toilet either through our baching or camping days, but for many others they are a thing of legend.
The government used to own a very fine set of of long-drops when I serviced telephone exchanges on the North Island’s East Coast in the 1970s. Many of the rural telephone exchange buildings sat in a lonely paddock, with a discrete outhouse and tankstand tucked away out the back. Whangara, Te Araroa, Matawai, Motu, Rere, Ngatapa are some of the exchanges that spring to mind.
As recently as the 1940s and 1950s an outhouse privvy was a common sight in smaller towns and villages before regulation required the use of septic tanks where public sewerage systems were not available, allowing toilet facilities to be moved indoors.
So even though some of us are familiar with the concept of a long-drop toilet, the “delights” of owning and maintaining one is quite beyond us. Not to mention how to construct one from scratch.
The Christchurch experience warns us that now might be a good time to gain the necessary knowledge.
The government website Get Ready Get Thru is surprisingly coy about how to prepare emergency toilet facilities. Beyond vaguely mentioning buckets and plastic bags, the site has no mention whatsoever of how to dig a temporary latrine. This might need to be remedied following the Christchurch experience.
Nevertheless, Cantabrians are an inventive lot, and have come to the rescue with novel approaches to the problem they face. Pictures of some of their “commodious” dunnies can be found on this website.