Sanitation in Emergencies Overview

Compiled by:
Risch Tratschin (seecon international gmbh), Dorothee Spuhler (seecon international gmbh)

Executive Summary

The aim of every sanitation system in emergencies is to minimise spread of faecal-oral diseases and to restore a healthy environment. Safe excreta disposal is therefore a major priority. Apart from that, sanitation interventions after a disastrous event are also concerned with hygiene promotion, surface run-off (stormwater) and solid waste management, and handling of dead bodies. The best emergency sanitation system does not exist, and options must be considered as individually as the events that cause the emergency. The choice of the optimal system depends on the cause of the emergency event, the level of displacement of the affected population, the emergency phase (immediate, stabilisation, recovery), the available capacity, and the political and social context of the affected region. Advantages of ecological dry toilet systems have been pointed out for some emergency contexts.

Introduction

Adapted from RUBERTO & JOHANNESSEN (2009) and JOHANNESSEN & BIKABA (2009)

Natural disasters (floods, earthquakes, storms, droughts) and conflicts in combination with adverse physical (environment) and social factors (e.g. poverty, vulnerability) can cause a wide range of emergencies that require interventions in terms of sanitation.

Interventions always aim at preventing the transmission of faecal-oral diseases, the contamination of water sources, and the (further) development of breeding sites for vectors, dignity and general wellbeing of the affected people (see also water sanitation and health). In a second stage, emergency situations can also be an opportunity for long-term development (see also water sanitation and development) as well as for emergency preparedness and resilience.

The best emergency toilet and excreta disposal system in emergencies does not exist. The choice for a certain system depends on the specific conditions, and each system has advantages and disadvantages. The choice can be influenced by:

  • The event: e.g. people affected by an emergency situation can live “in-situ” (people remain at or close to their homes) or can be displaced (ex-situ) to a dense or a scattered context (cities, schools, mosques, camps etc).
  • The environmental context: simple pit latrines are often the minimum and the most common toilets promoted in an emergency response. Challenging conditions such as difficult ground composition (rocky, sandy etc.), high water table or flooding, lack of water, or space constraints can make other options such as urine diverting toilets, elevated latrines, (shallow) trench latrines or peepoo bags more suitable though.
  • The available capacities in the field: e.g. locally available skills to construct, operate and maintain the facilities.
  • The choice can also be influenced by some conflicts of interests (e.g. long-term versus short-term thinking).

Gender issues as well as vulnerable groups such as children or disabled persons always need special attention especially when designing toilet systems (see also OXFAM 2007).

In-situ Emergency Response

In-situ emergencies response is addressed to people staying in or close to their homes after an emergency situation. Earthquakes or an urban flooding event could for instance induce an emergency response for an in-situ target population where people stay in or close to their homes.

Ex-situ Emergency Response

Ex-situ emergency response is addressed to people that have (temporarily) left their homes. The level and type of displacement vary. Settlements generally fall into one of the three categories: highly dispersed (dispersed settlement or host families); mass shelters (e.g. in schools, warehouses or mosques, mostly in urban areas) or self-settlements (spontaneous camps) or previously planned camps (UNHCR 2007). People living ex-situ after an emergency event have the status of internally displaced persons, IDPs, or that of refugees if they cross international borders.

Planned Emergency Camps

Adapted from UNHCR (2007) and HARVEY (2007)

The layout, the infrastructure and the shelter of a camp influence safety and wellbeing of people living in camps. The site selection is thus crucial. Authorities and refugees/IDPs should be involved as soon as possible. Apart from water (good quality, quantity and ease of access) being the single most important criteria, also access, land rights, security and protection are important. Camp planning and management relate to shelter, sanitation and hygiene, administration (warehouses), security, distribution of food (and non-food items), health services, education, community services (e.g. religious sites, sport or other distraction areas), and income-generating opportunities. A minimum surface area of 45m2 should ideally be calculated for each person in a camp, but not less than 30m2 (also including space for infrastructure and facilities).

Emergency Phases

The choice of the most suitable and efficient emergency toilet and excreta disposal system also depends on the emergency phase. Emergency phases roughly describe the steps that affected people go through after an emergency. The exact duration and the moment a phase sets in depend on the event and the context of the emergency and are defined differently by different authors. The phases are not time-bound but rather depend on the achievement of set targets to be achieved in that phase (DAVIS & LAMBERT 2002; CLASEN & SMITH 2005; HARVEY 2007):

  • Immediate or acute emergency phase, about 1 week up to 3 months after the event
  • Stabilisation phase, typically starting after 2-4 weeks and lasting until 2-6 months after the event
  • Recovery phase with long-term action, taking several months and up to 1 or more years
  • Settlement or long-term phase, lasting perhaps for years after the disaster

Standards

The international community of emergency response organisations has defined minimum standards that people who are affected by an emergency can expect from organisations providing humanitarian assistance. The most commonly mentioned are the Sphere Standards, which include for excreta disposal in emergencies (see also THE SPHERE PROJECT 2011):

  • A living environment free from human faecal contamination;
  • Access to adequate, appropriate and acceptable toilet facilities.

Some organisations and authors have translated these standards into objectives, which help to guide practioners in achieving adequate and appropriate service levels for each of the sanitation sectors (excreta disposal, solid waste management, waste management at medical centres, disposal of dead bodies, wastewater management, hygiene promotion) (HARVEY et al. 2002; see also UNICEF 2005).

Selecting the Appropriate Sanitation System in Emergencies

With regards to sanitation, emergency responses may considerably vary with in-situ rural areas, urban areas or when dealing with displaced persons (ex-situ situations) (WISNER & ADAMS 2002; EAWAG 2008):

  • The immediate response in an urban area may include establishing or reinforcing sewage tanker services to bypass blocked sewers or to carry out intensive septic tank or latrine emptying in peri-urban areas. Every effort should be made to allow people to use their existing toilets. Where necessary, public facilities may need to be provided by allowing access to schools or community centres, or by setting up temporary public toilets.
  • In rural areas, a focus on the protection of water sources is usually the priority because of the lower concentration of people and lower risk of faecal contamination.
  • When dealing with displaced persons, immediate sanitation measures and technologies are available that would not be recommended in non-emergency situations. Emergency toilet structures are chosen based on the urgency of the need and should be provided and improved gradually from clearly marked open defecation fields, to trench defecation fields, to communal trench latrines, communal pits or borehole latrines to household or family pit latrines (see immediate and short-term sanitation in emergencies).

An emergency sanitation system is not only a physical product (superstructure, interface, storage etc.). It also has to consider the context of the emergency (e.g. culture, user density, soils, water level, accessibility, or availability of skills and materials) and the process of getting that particular sanitation system implemented and fully operational (planning, installation, use, final disposal etc.) (HARVEY et al. 2002; JOHANNESSEN 2011). Therefore the assessment and planning of sanitation systems in emergencies require many aspects to be taken into account in a very limited amount of time (see HARVEY et al. 2002 for extensive assessment guidelines).

There is disagreement on whether sanitation solutions should be short-term only, or adaptable to mid- and long-term sanitation solutions from the outset. However, experience has shown that sanitation facilities are often used for a longer time than initially planned by aid agencies. Hence, the question of emptying pits or septic tanks should always be raised from the outset (JOHANNESSEN 2011)(for more information see also immediate and short-term sanitation in emergencies and medium and long-term sanitation in emergencies).

Factor

Communal Latrines

Family Latrines

Speed of construction

Can be constructed fast by well-trained and well-equipped team, rate of construction is limited by number of staff and equipment

May take considerable time to train families, but large numbers of latrines may be built quickly

Technical quality of latrines

Higher quality of design and construction easier to control but innovative ideas from users may be missed out

Potential for innovative ideas of users, but more difficult to ensure good quality

Construction costs

Use of materials can be easily controlled but labour must be paid for

Construction labour and some materials may be free of charge, but families may not have the time or the right skills

Maintenance costs

Maintenance, repair and replacement costs are easier to predict, but staff might be required to clean and maintain facilities in the long-term

Users take responsibility for cleaning and maintenance but recurrent costs are less predictable

Technical possibilities

Heavy equipment and specialised techniques may have to be used (e.g. rocky ground)

Families may not be able to dig in hard rock or build raised pit latrines

Cleaning and hygiene

Users do not have to clean latrines, but these are often dirty, and a greater mix of users increases the risk of disease transmission

Latrines are often cleaner but many users may prefer not to be responsible for construction, cleaning and maintenance

Access and security

Latrines may be less accessible and more insecure, particularly for women

Latrines are often more accessible (closer to dwellings) and thus safer

Development issues

People may lose or not acquire the habit of looking after their own latrine

People keep or develop the habit of managing their own latrine

Especially in an in-situ emergency situation, response coordinators might have to choose between providing communal or family latrines with the affected population. The table shows the many factors to be considered. Often, the conditions on site facilitate the choice. Adopted from HARVEY et al. 2002.

 


Safe Excreta Disposal Type

Application Remarks

Demarcated defecation area (e.g. sheeted-off segments)

First phase: the first two to three days when a huge number of people need immediate facilities

Trench latrines

First phase: up to two months

Simple pit latrines

Plan from the start for long-term use

Ventilated Improved Pit (VIP) latrines

Context-based for middle- to long-term response

Ecological Sanitation (Ecosan)

Context-based: in response to high water table and flood situation, right from the start of middle- to long-term

Septic Tanks

Middle-to long-term phase

Especially for ex-situ situations, the choice for one of the many excreta disposal facilities depends on the emergency context and emergency phase, and usually follows a step-by-step upgrade approach. Source: THE SPHERE PROJECT 2011.

Emergency Sanitation - Not only Toilets!

In emergencies, excreta disposal is often only one of many environmental factors that affect the health of the population. Sanitation is also concerned with the disposal of dead bodies which can be one of the most difficult aspects of a disaster response - not so much due to health-related risks, but to psychological and social impact of the trauma (WHO 2011; HARVEY et al. 2002).

Where large amounts of people live in a camp or a temporary settlement, the management of solid waste will likely have to be addressed. Similar to sanitation, repairing of existing solid waste collection infrastructure should be a priority (see small or large scale composting; anaerobic digestion for organic waste; and incineration, small or large scale). Stormwater management and drainage of surface runoff will also be of high importance in order to maintain hygienic conditions and prevent contamination of water bodies and the environment. Special attention should be paid to and treatment applied for clinical waste (see HARVEY et al. 2002).

The complementary planning and organisation of hygiene promotion is critical in emergency sanitation; all users of emergency sanitation should contribute with their hygiene behaviour to minimising the spread of faecal-oral diseases and to restoring a healthy environment (see also awareness raising).

The Role of Dry and Ecological Toilet Systems in Emergencies

Adapted from: JOHANNESSEN & BIKABA (2009); OXFAM (2009); RUBERTO & JOHANNESSEN (2009)

In an emergency situation, the choice of dry or ecological toilet systems, such as urine diversion toilets, composting toilets, or terra preta toilets is very often driven by factors other than the re-use of its by-products. Such toilets first of all do not require any water to function safely and treatment is much easier if no infrastructure for treatement is available (e.g. drying and composting). Unlike pit latrines, they can be used for longer time, making them a much more attractive option in terms of longevity. Moreover, the dry system such as ecosan toilets are very often better suited to rocky ground or areas with high water tables, making them more resistant to cyclic flooding for instance.

Moreover urine diverting toilets reduce odour and flies and if refugee camps are established long-term, urine can for instance be reused for gardening (see also reuse of urine. However, ecological toilets require more careful operation and maintenance, and handling of excreta poses higher health risks. A case study has shown that ecological technologies e.g. UDDTs can be successfully implemented in the long-term phase of an emergency response (MWASE 2006). The two most important criteria for ecological toilet applicability have been identified as the awareness and expertise in ecological toilets within the aid agencies, and the availability of standardised, lightweight toilet units that are quick to assemble and easy to transport (VON MUENCH et al. 2006).

References Library

CLASEN, T.; SMITH, L. (2005): The Drinking Water Response to the Indian Ocean Tsunami, Including the Role of Household Water Treatment. Geneva: World Health Organization (WHO). URL [Accessed: 14.07.2010]. PDF

DAVIS, J.; LAMBERT, R. (2002): Engineering in Emergencies. A Practical Guide for Relief Workers. London: Intermediate Technology Publications, Ltd..

EAWAG/SANDEC (Editor) (2008): Sanitation Systems and Technologies. Lecture Notes . (= Sandec Training Tool 1.0, Module 4). Duebendorf: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science (EAWAG), Department of Water and Sanitation in Developing Countries (SANDEC). PDF

HARVEY, P.; BAGHRI, S.; REED, B. (2002): Emergency Sanitation: Assessment and Programme Design. Loughborough: Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC). URL [Accessed: 21.02.2011]. PDF

HARVEY, P.A. (2007): Excreta Disposal in Emergencies. A Field Manual. Leicestershire: WEDC Loughborough University. URL [Accessed: 29.07.2011]. PDF

JOHANNESSEN, A.; BIKABA, D. (2009): Sustainable Sanitation for Emergencies and Reconstruction Situations - Factsheet of Working Group 8 (draft). Eschborn: Sustainable Sanitation Alliance SuSanA. URL [Accessed: 23.04.2012]. PDF

JOHANNESSEN, A. (2011): Identifying Gaps in Emergency Sanitation. Design of New Kits to Increase Effectiveness in Emergencies. (= 2day Workshop, 22-23 February 2011). Stoutenburg: Oxfam & WASTE. URL [Accessed: 23.04.2012].

MWASE, H. (2006): The Potential of Ecosan to provide Sustainable Sanitation in Emergency Situations and to achieve “Quick Wins” in MDGs. (= MSc Thesis Abstract). Delft: UNESCO-IHE. URL [Accessed: 26.07.2011].

OXFAM (Editor) (2007): Excreta Disposal for People with Physical Disabilities in Emergencies. (= Technical Brief). London: Oxfam Publishing. URL [Accessed: 26.07.2011].

OXFAM (Editor) (2009): UD Toilets and Composting Toilets in Emergency Settings. (= Technical Brief). London: Oxfam Publishing. URL [Accessed: 26.07.2011].

PEN (Editor) (2010): Philippine Emergency Sanitation Reference Toolkit. Excreta Disposal. Manila: The Philippine Ecosan Network (PEN). PDF

RUBERTO, C.; JOHANNESSEN, A. (2009): Innovations in Emergency Sanitation. International Water Association (IWA). (= 2-day Workshop, 11-13 February 2009). Stoutenburg: The Netherlands. URL [Accessed: 24.07.2011]. PDF

THE SPHERE PROJECT (Editor) (2011): Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response. Bourton on Dunsmore: Practcal Action Publishing. URL [Accessed: 23.04.2012]. PDF

UNHCR (Editor) (2007): Handbook for Emergencies. Third Edition. Geneva: UNHCR Emergency Preparedness and Response Section. URL [Accessed: 17.10.2011]. PDF

UNICEF (Editor) (2005): Emergency Field Handbook. A Guide for UNICEF Staff. New York: The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). URL [Accessed: 24.10.2011]. PDF

WHO (Editor) (2011): Technical Options for Excreta Disposal in Emergencies. Geneva: World Health Organization (WHO). URL [Accessed: 29.09.2011]. PDF

WISNER, B. (Editor); ADAMS, J. (Editor) (2002): Environmental Health in Emergencies and Disasters. Chapter 7: Water Supply. A Practical Guide. Geneva: World Health Organization (WHO). URL [Accessed: 27.05.2011]. PDF

Further Readings Library

Reference icon

CHANDRAMOULI, C. (2012): Availability and Type of Latrine Facility: 2001-2011. New Dehli: Census of India, Government of India. URL [Accessed: 20.03.2012]. PDF

Statistics of availability and type of latrine facility.


Reference icon

DIETVORST, C. (2012): India Census: More People Have a Mobile Phone than a Household Toilet. Sanitation Update. URL [Accessed: 20.03.2012]. PDF

Nearly half of India’s 1.2 billion people have no toilet at home, but more people own a mobile phone, according to the latest census data.


Reference icon

JOHANNESSEN, A.; BIKABA, D. (2009): Sustainable Sanitation for Emergencies and Reconstruction Situations - Factsheet of Working Group 8 (draft). Eschborn: Sustainable Sanitation Alliance SuSanA. URL [Accessed: 23.04.2012]. PDF

This well structured and informative factsheet from the SuSanA network deals with the planning of sustainable sanitation for emergencies and reconstruction situations in low- and middle-income countries.


Reference icon

PEN (Editor) (2010): Philippine Emergency Sanitation Reference Toolkit. Excreta Disposal. Manila: The Philippine Ecosan Network (PEN). PDF

This toolkit is a compilation of existing relevant sanitation focused emergency response mechanisms, technologies and experiences to support institutions and local government units in disaster response. It was developed in the aftermath of cyclone Ketsana in 2009.


Reference icon

RUBERTO, C.; JOHANNESSEN, A. (2009): Innovations in Emergency Sanitation. International Water Association (IWA). (= 2-day Workshop, 11-13 February 2009). Stoutenburg: The Netherlands. URL [Accessed: 24.07.2011]. PDF

This document summarises the discussion and outcomes of an expert workshop in 2009, identifying useful ideas that can improve sanitation practices in terms of sustainability but are still suitable for emergency situations. It includes inputs from various experts from the sector.


Reference icon

WHO (Editor); WEDC (Editor) (2013): Technical Notes on Drinking-Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Emergencies. Geneva: World Health Organization (WHO). URL [Accessed: 27.08.2013]. PDF

These technical notes are relevant to a wide range of emergency situations, including both natural and conflict-induced disasters. They are suitable for field technicians, engineers and hygiene promoters, as well as staff from agency headquarters.


Reference icon

WISNER, B. (Editor); ADAMS, J. (Editor) (2002): Environmental Health in Emergencies and Disasters. Chapter 7: Water Supply. A Practical Guide. Geneva: World Health Organization (WHO). URL [Accessed: 27.05.2011]. PDF

Contains all necessary information related to water needs, quality, testing, catchment, treatment, storage and distribution in emergencies, as well as health related issues. Well structured, not too long, good illustrations and graphics.


Reference icon

U.R.D. (Editor) (2012): Humanitarian Crises and Sustainable Sanitation: Lessons from Eastern Chad. Plaisians: Groupe URD (Urgence Réhabilitation Développement). URL [Accessed: 20.03.2012]. PDF

How important is sanitation during a humanitarian crisis? Why is it important to explore ecological and sustainable sanitation? Groupe URD looks at the case of Eastern Chad, an example of a major long-term crisis. From an acute emergency in 2003, the crisis has gone through a number of phases. The appropriateness of aid mechanisms is currently being questioned, with a particular focus on sanitation. Sustainable sanitation can help to improve the quality of life of refugees and IDPs as well as local populations. From this perspective, what lessons from Eastern Chad could be useful in other contexts?


Reference icon

MUENCH, E. von (Editor); INGLE, R. (Editor); MBALO, D (Editor); KAPPAUF, L. (Editor) (2012): Compilation of 13 Factsheets on Key Sustainable Sanitation Topics. Eschborn: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. URL [Accessed: 07.05.2012]. PDF

This factsheet book is a compilation of 13 thematic factsheets which were produced by the eleven SuSanA working groups (WGs): WG1 - Capacity development; WG 2 - Finance and economics; WG 3 - Renewable energies and climate change; WG 4 - Sanitation systems, technology options, hygiene and health; WG 5 - Food security and productive sanitation systems; WG 6 - Cities and planning; WG 7 - Community, rural and schools (with gender and social aspects); WG 8 - Emergency and reconstruction situations; WG 9 - Sanitation as a business and public awareness; WG 10 - Operation and maintenance; WG 11 - Groundwater Protection. What makes these factsheets special is that they are multi-authored by people from different organisations and by free-lance consultants. The factsheets were developed in a long process involving many discussions and review loops which were mostly carried out in public, e.g. at working group meetings, with the working group mailing lists or, since July 2011, also in the open SuSanA discussion forum.


Reference icon

ICRC (Editor) (2009): Water and War. Geneva: International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). URL [Accessed: 15.05.2012]. PDF

This publication looks at some vital issues associated with water and sanitation in conflict-affected countries where the ICRC is working.


Reference icon

KINSTEDT, K. (2012): Design of a Portable Ecological Sanitation Toilet for Disaster Relief. Hamburg: Institute of Wastewater Management and Water Protection at the Technical University of Hamburg. URL [Accessed: 27.06.2012]. PDF

A portable toilet appropriate for disaster response is presented in this report. The urine is diverted and the feces undergo a lactofermentation process. Biochar is added also to the feces to eliminate odor and facilitate the reuse of the excreta as a soil additive. The design, costs, logistics and expected challenges are discussed.


Reference icon

GLOBAL WASH LEARNING PROJECT (Editor) (2009): Lessons Learned in WASH Response During Rural Flood Emergencies. New York: Global WASH Cluster. URL [Accessed: 27.08.2013]. PDF

This paper identifies various lessons that can be learned from the experiences of relief agencies when responding to rural flooding emergencies. It includes background information on flood emergencies and challenges of WASH response to rural floods and is intended for WASH technical advisors and personnel involved in planning and delivery of WASH programmes in rural flood emergency situations.


Reference icon

WHO (Editor) (2013): Safe Management of Wastes from Health-care Activities. (= Second Edition). Geneva: World Health Organization (WHO). URL [Accessed: 30.09.2013]. PDF

In many countries, knowledge about the potential for harm from health-care wastes has now become more prominent to governments, medical practitioners and civil society. The indiscriminate and erratic handling and disposal of waste within health-care facilities is now widely recognized as a source of avoidable infection, and is synonymous with public perception of poor standards of health care. Water pollution and inadequate wastewater treatment pose important risks to health.


Reference icon

USAID (Editor) (2013): Healthcare Waste. Sector Environmental Guidelines. Washington: United States Agency for International Development (USAID). URL [Accessed: 30.09.2013]. PDF

Currently, little or no management of healthcare wastes occurs in small-scale facilities in developing countries. Training and infrastructure are minimal. Common practice in urban areas is to dispose of healthcare waste along with the general solid waste or, in peri-urban and rural areas, to bury waste, without treatment. In some cities small hospitals may incinerate waste in dedicated on-site incinerators, but often fail to operate them properly. Unwanted pharmaceuticals and chemicals may be dumped into the local sanitation outlet, be it a sewage system, septic tank or latrine. The contamination of water sources represents serious health risks.


Reference icon

HARVEY, B. (2012): Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in Health-Care Facilities in Emergencies. Technical Notes on Drinking-water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Emergencies. (= Technical Notes on Drinking-Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Emergencies, 17). Geneva: World Health Organization (WHO). URL [Accessed: 30.09.2013]. PDF

Health-care facilities play a vital role within the community by providing essential medical care at all times including during emergencies. Any incident which causes loss of infrastructure, energy supply, loss of equipment, loss of staff or staff attrition, interruption to supply chains, or patient surge - such as sudden communicable disease epidemics, natural disasters (e.g. floods, earthquakes), or conflict - requires a holistic health response and recovery effort which includes actions to assess and restore basic WASH services.


Reference icon

GRANGE, C. (2016): Faecal Sludge Management. WASH in Emergencies, Problem Exploration Report. London, UK: HIF. URL [Accessed: 12.05.2016]. PDF


Case Studies Library

Reference icon

FOGDE, M.; MACARIO, L.; PORSANI, J. (2011): UDDTs in Flood-response Project. Guara-Guara, Sofala Province, Mozambique. Case Study of Sustainable Sanitation Projects. Eschborn: Sustainable Sanitation Alliance SuSanA. URL [Accessed: 11.04.2011]. PDF

The project aimed at providing safe water supply and sanitation to the population resettled – after floods – in the less flood-prone Guara-Guara region in the Sofala Province, Mozambique. Since the area is characterised by high groundwater tables, so called “ventilated double vault urine diversion dehydration toilets” (UDDTs) were implemented to not contaminate the groundwater, and thus not threaten public health (unlike pit latrines).


Reference icon

GLOBAL WASH LEARNING PROJECT (Editor) (2008): Lessons Learned in WASH Response During Urban Flood Emergencies. New York: Global WASH Cluster. URL [Accessed: 23.04.2012]. PDF

This paper identifies various lessons that can be learned from urban flood emergencies, with a focus on the WASH sector. It includes urban flood management issues in emergencies related to water, sanitation, hygiene and various crosscutting issues.


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MUENCH, E. von; AMY, G.; FESSELET, J.F. (2006): Ecosan Can Provide Sustainable Sanitation in Emergency Situations with Benefits for the Millennium Development Goals. London: IWA Publishing. PDF

This paper describes the potential of ecological sanitation (ecosan) to provide sustainable excreta disposal in emergency situations and in peri-urban areas or slums in developing countries. It proposes eight criteria for the applicability of ecosan based on analysis of three case studies representing different types of emergency situations.


Reference icon

KRAMER, S.; PRENETA, N.; KILBRIDE, A. (2013): Delivering Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Services in an Uncertain Environment: Thermophilic Composting of Human Wastes in Uncertain Urban Environments. A Case Study from Haiti. (= WECD International Conference, 36). Oakland: Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL). URL [Accessed: 01.11.2013]. PDF

This paper describes the project of constructing a thermophilic composting site in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010. The composting facilities have treated over 500,000 gallons of human waste in the past three years, converting it to pathogen free compost, over 10,000 gallons of which has been sold for use in agriculture and reforestation projects. The experience of thermophilic composting in Haiti is unique in scale and duration and can have global implications for waste treatment in both emergency and development contexts.


Reference icon

KILBRIDE, A.; KRAMER, S.; PRENETA, N. (2013): Delivering Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Services in an Uncertain Environment: Piloting Ecological Sanitation (EcoSan) in the Emergency Context of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after the 2010 Earthquake. (= WECD International Conference, 36). Oakland: Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL). URL [Accessed: 01.11.2013]. PDF

The earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010 and the cholera epidemic that followed from October 2010, resulted in one of the largest humanitarian relief efforts in history. Many of the internally displaced persons camps were located in urban neighbourhoods with high groundwater, making onsite sanitation extremely difficult. In response to these unique conditions a small local organization, SOIL, partnered with Oxfam Great Britain to pilot urine diversion EcoSan toilets in camps throughout Port-au-Prince. This briefing paper covers this pilot project from March 2010 through March 2012. During that 2-year period, SOIL’s toilets served over 20,000 people and treated more than 400,000 gallons of human waste, converting it to rich compost.


Awareness Raising Material Library

Reference icon

UNHCR (Editor) (2007): Handbook for Emergencies. Third Edition. Geneva: UNHCR Emergency Preparedness and Response Section. URL [Accessed: 17.10.2011]. PDF

This extensive handbook from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on emergency responses reflects the multiple dimensions of an emergency response, ranging from emergency management to emergency operations and their support. The handbook mainly looks at emergencies where populations have been displaced from their former living environment.


Training Material Library

Reference icon

HARVEY, P.; BAGHRI, S.; REED, B. (2002): Emergency Sanitation: Assessment and Programme Design. Loughborough: Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC). URL [Accessed: 21.02.2011]. PDF

This book has been written to help all those involved in planning and implementing emergency sanitation programmes. The main focus is a systematic and structured approach to assessment and programme design. There is a strong emphasis on socio-cultural issues and community participation throughout.Includes an extensive “guidelines” section with rapid assessment instructions and details on programme design, planning and implementation.


Reference icon

HARVEY, P.A. (2007): Excreta Disposal in Emergencies. A Field Manual. Leicestershire: WEDC Loughborough University. URL [Accessed: 29.07.2011]. PDF

In this manual existing, innovative and new technologies and approaches for excreta disposal in emergency situations are investigated. It provides practical guidance on how to select, design, construct and maintain appropriate excreta disposal systems to reduce faecal transmission risks and protect public health in emergency situations.


Reference icon

TILLEY, E.; LUETHI, C.; MOREL, A.; ZURBRUEGG, C.; SCHERTENLEIB, R. (2008): Compendium of Sanitation Systems and Technologies. Duebendorf, Switzerland: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (EAWAG) and Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC). URL [Accessed: 15.02.2010]. PDF

This compendium gives a systematic overview on different sanitation systems and technologies and describes a wide range of available low-cost sanitation technologies.

See document in FRENCH


Reference icon

LANGE, R. de (2013): Addressing Water and Sanitation Needs of Displaced Women in Emergencies. (= WEDC International Conference, Nakuru, Kenya, 36). Leicestershire: Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC). URL [Accessed: 11.01.2014]. PDF

Mainstreaming gender in an emergency Water and Sanitation response can be difficult as standard consultation and participation processes take too much time in an emergency. To facilitate a quick response that includes women's needs, a simple Gender and WatSan Tool has been developed that can also be used by less experienced staff.


Important Weblinks

http://www.susana.org/ [Accessed: 28.07.2011]

The objective of this SuSanA working group is to combine the knowledge from experts in the fields of sanitation with the knowledge from experts in the field of emergency response and reconstruction. The site includes documents, workshop inputs and presentations with best practice examples of sustainable sanitation options in emergency and reconstruction situations.

http://wedc.lboro.ac.uk/ [Accessed: 24.10.2011]

This website offers a lot of information material for practioneers in emergencies.

http://www.akvo.org/ [Accessed: 28.07.2011]

The sanitation decision tool is based on the Eawag Sanitation Compendium and aims to give support in choosing the right sanitation chain components, from a spectrum of options. It shall help the user to find a tailored solution suitable for the specific context that the sanitation system will be placed in. The tool exists as a print and digital version.

http://www.waterdisaster.org/ [Accessed: 28.07.2011]

The WASH Disaster Risk Management Toolbox aims to support cities and their expertise in low- and middle-income countries by providing a collection of best practices. It illustrates that emergency response is only one part of the wider disaster risk management cycle.

http://oneresponse.info/ [Accessed: 12.01.2012]

The inter-agency coordination and collaboration platform on humanitarian response provides a vast amount of materials that are useful in an emergency response. The website is designed for the UN Clusters and OCHA to manage information. The WASH Cluster section provides resources and documents relevant for WASH responses in emergencies.