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Kakuma refugee camp

Kakuma refugee camp

Using Solar Energy to Treat Waste in Kenya

Worldwide, there are approximately 36 million refugees and internally displaced people 1. Refugee camps are often very crowded, making it essential—but difficult—to provide adequate infrastructure for safe drinking water and sanitation. Water-, sanitation-, and hygiene-related diseases, including cholera and dysentery, are some of the primary causes of illness and death in these settings, especially among young children.

Sustainable sanitation (appropriate disposal of human waste) is essential for preventing the spread of infectious diseases, such as cholera and typhoid fever, within crowded refugee camp populations.

Solar sanitation is an inexpensive, innovative, and effective form of waste treatment that uses concentrated solar energy to treat waste so it can be safely discarded or potentially used for fertilizer or fuel. This is a critical component of a holistic waste management system that will ensure latrines are emptied, maintained clean, and reused—conserving space in the camp and reducing open defecation.

solar concentrator

One type of solar concentrator used to treat waste

With an award from CDC’s Innovation Fund, several teams around the agency partnered with CDC Kenya and the non-governmental organization Sanivation to pilot a solar sanitation project in the Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya, which houses more than 100,000 refugees. Initial laboratory work assessing the effectiveness of solar sanitation in treating human waste under local conditions has been completed at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI)-CDC laboratory located in Kibera, Nairobi. Teams have also led focus group discussions with Kakuma refugee camp residents and staff to elicit local opinions about latrine design, usage, and maintenance, and an engineering team from the Georgia Institute of Technology is working to develop new and improved latrine designs.

  1. UNHCR. Figures at a Glance. 2014.
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