Potential Sanitation Solutions During an Emergency Response

Lack of access to adequate and appropriate sanitation and hygiene can be a chronic public health challenge that contributes to the spread of disease in low- and medium-income countries. This situation can be made worse during environmental disasters and environmental and public health emergencies.

In response to disasters and emergencies, prevention of open defecation and waste containment are critical to reduce the spread of disease.

While communities plan for long-term waste management, immediate sanitation solutions are often needed to minimize the spread of disease during emergencies, and should include sanitation facilities. These solutions should include handwashing facilities with soap and water, operation and maintenance regimes, operator training, and community education. Sanitation options are discussed below.

Sanitation Solutions (Immediate Term)

Potential Sanitation Solution

Definition

Advantage

Constraints

Potential Sanitation Solution

Packet Latrines

Definition

Individual, single-use biodegradable bags for point-of-use sanitation that are buried or properly disposed

  • Bags typically used inside reusable buckets
  • Brand names: Peepoople, Wagbag

Advantage

  • No infrastructure required.
  • Lightweight and easy to transport.
  • May be used where space is severely limited or in flooded areas.

Constraints

  • Active supply chain needed to provide approximately 1 bag per person each day.
  • High costs of some types of bags.
  • Need for disposal site and possibly collection services.
  • Potential for bags to be discarded in open areas or areas posing risks to others.
  • Social acceptance varies and would need to be determined for target population.
  • Require intense hygiene campaign to educate the community on handling and disposal of bags.

Potential Sanitation Solution

Bucket Latrines or Elevated Toilets

Definition

Elevated temporary structure over large container or tank that can be lined with large, replaceable plastic bag

Advantage

  • Large containers typically easy to procure.
  • Suitable for sites where digging of latrines is not feasible or suitable.
  • Well suited to areas with high water table or where flooding occurs.
  • Larger tank requires less frequent emptying.

Constraints

  • Requires tanks and superstructure.
  • Requires desludging trucks and personnel.
  • Need for sewage disposal site.
  • Vehicle access required to empty containers.
  • Social acceptance varies and would need to be determined for target population.
  • Requires intense hygiene campaign to ensure bags are buried/disposed and containers sanitized.
  • May be difficult to access for handicapped, elderly and small children.

Potential Sanitation Solution

Chemical Toilets

Definition

Portable prefabricated sanitation units with water-tight excreta-holding tank, containing a chemical solution to aid digestion and reduce odor

Advantage

  • Portable.
  • Hygienic.
  • Minimize odor.
  • Can be mobilized rapidly.
  • Demonstrated success in the Dominican Republic 2003 flooding.
  • Well suited to areas with high water table or where flooding occurs.

Constraints

  • High cost.
  • Difficult to transport.
  • Require desludging trucks and personnel and disposal sites.
  • Vehicle access required to service toilets.
  • Require frequent emptying due to small size of tank.
  • Need for sewage disposal site.
  • Uncommon outside Europe, North America, and parts of Latin America.

Potential Sanitation Solution

Trench Latrines

Definition

Narrow trenches with temporary privacy structure; waste covered daily with soil

Advantage

  • Rapid to implement (one worker can dig 50 m [165 ft] of trench per day).
  • Feces can be covered easily with soil.

Constraints

  • Short life span.
  • Flooding of trenches during rainy season.
  • Drainage to divert surface water from trench required.
  • Constant management required to ensure covering of wastes daily.
  • Limited privacy.
  • Unsuitable where water table is high.
  • Odor problems.

Potential Sanitation Solution

Communal or Family Pit Latrines With Short-term Structure

Definition

Shallow pit of approximately 0.3 m x 0.5 m x 0.5 m (1ft x 1.6 ft x 1.6 ft) depth with simple privacy structure; waste covered with soil when latrine is near-full

Advantage

  • Increased privacy.
  • Rapid to implement.
  • Reduced labor input.
  • Higher level of user involvement and ownership.

Constraints

  • Require adequate space for digging of pits.
  • Rainy season may pose issues with flooding of pits.
  • Unsuitable where water table is high.
  • Pit latrines fill up and need to be capped long-term.
  • Large quantity of tools and equipment required.
  • Community must be able and willing to construct latrines.

Potential Sanitation Solution

Ecological Sanitation (Eco-San) Latrines

Definition

Elevated structure over container or bin which stores organic waste for decomposition. Dehydrating toilets divert urine from organic waste and require bulk drying and pH additives. Non-urine diverting toilets collect all waste for decomposition and require the addition of organics. Used for accustomed populations or agricultural communities.

Advantage

  • Minimize odor.
  • Well suited to areas with high water table or where flooding occurs.
  • Decomposed organics can augment topsoil and fertilizers in agriculture.

Constraints

  • More difficult to construct.
  • High level of user awareness required.
  • High level of management required.
  • Consumables required (ash/lime and/or organics).
  • Complex to operate and maintain.
  • Require intense hygiene campaign to ensure proper use.

Recommenations for Sanitation in Improvised Settlements and Cholera- Prone Areas

  • Use chemical toilets in the immediate term where available and where the means to service them adequately exists.
  • If chemical toilets are not feasible, construct trench latrines or temporary pit latrines immediately where no toilet facilities exist.
  • Consider elevated latrines for areas where digging of latrines is not possible or acceptable or areas with high water table or prone to flooding. Elevated latrines have larger reservoirs and need to be desludged less frequently than chemical toilets.
  • For the immediate term, use the Sphere standardexternal icon of 50 people per latrine for emergency situations, with the aim of decreasing to the Sphere minimum standard for excreta disposal of 20 people per latrine.
  • Engage residents of internally displaced persons (IDP) settlements in choosing among appropriate alternatives.
  • Further investigate existing practices to identify other feasible alternatives (e.g., are people in improvised settlements using toilets in minimally damaged buildings in the vicinity?)
  • Further investigate the local feasibility and local acceptability of packet and bucket latrines.
  • Include information about latrine use and care (in local languages) in health communication materials. Ensure there is a plan to communicate with nonliterate populations.
  • Further investigate longer-term sanitation solutions to help prevent cholera and other infectious diseases.
  • Install handwashing stations at every sanitation facility, regardless of the type of sanitation facility installed.