The word latrine can refer to a toilet or a simpler facility used as a toilet, generally without a bowl. It can be a communal trench in the earth in a camp, a simple pit, or more advanced designs, including pour-flush systems or ecological latrines. The term is derived from the Latin lavatrina, meaning bath.
Many forms of latrine technology have been used in the past, from utterly simple to more sophisticated, while newer developments show promise using ecological sanitation (EcoSan).
Pit toilets are the simplest and cheapest type, minimally defined as a hole in the ground. More sophisticated pit toilets may include a floor plate, a waterproof liner for the pit to avoid contamination of the water table, or ventilation to reduce odor and fly and mosquito breeding. Other technologies may be used including the Reed Odourless Earth Closet (ROEC) or Composting toilets, the Pour-Flush Latrine, popularized by Sulabh International, the Cistern-Flush Toilet, and vaults.
In locations with no functioning toilets, latrines or trench toilets are typically set up for use by groups of men and/or women. They typically consist of pits or trenches dug in the ground, 4 feet (1.2 m) to 5 feet (1.5 m) deep and 4 feet (1.2 m) to 20 feet (6.1 m) long. Many military units, if used for any length of time, have primitive shelters and seating arrangements arranged over the pits. The pits are typically kept well away from any water sources to minimize possible disease transmission. After extended use the pits are typically filled in.
The use of latrines was a major advance in sanitation over more primitive "every man for himself" sanitation practices and helped control the spread of many diseases. Up to about 1920, when better sanitation practices were adopted, many more soldiers died of disease than from wounds.