Responding to our toilet duties: An important subject!

Jacco Vlastuin Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

Sanitation in emergency contexts must consider a diverse range of social, environmental, cultural and economic parameters. Jenny Lamb explores what this means for Oxfam and for Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) practitioners more broadly. 

From the Haiti earthquake in Port-au-Prince to the refugee crisis in Ethiopia and the displacement of communities in South Sudan every new situation presents us with challenges. For example, black cotton soil prone to swelling and shrinking, hard rock, soils prone to collapse and urban hard standing areas where you are not permitted to dig and space is limited. No solution provides an answer to every problem.  Thus our analysis and response options must be diverse, adaptive to the context, and exercise options for not only containment of the faecal waste, but also the collection, disposal and treatment of waste.

The WASH community have recognised that it is strategic to carry out concerted research in the development of containment, collection, disposal and treatment options for sanitation in emergencies. Oxfam has been part of a consortium with IFRC (lead) and WASTE called the Emergency Sanitation Project (ESP), which is funded by OFDA. ESP aims to increase the global understanding of current and future sanitation solutions, and to propose new concepts and modular technologies for safe excreta disposal and hygiene in emergency settings that are applicable in a variety of situations and contexts.

In Phase 1 of the ESP, the consortium have initiated a range of initiatives:  container based sanitation, desludging, hand washing (household and communal), latrine pit linings, latrine super structures, raised latrines, wastewater treatment and disposal (all of which have included desk top studies, collaborative design work and field testing). Outcomes for Oxfam within ESP have included: an interactive meeting entitled ‘Design a Bog Day‘, trials of the raised latrine (which now can be ordered via Oxfam’s supply centre)  and pit latrine lining in South Sudan and CAR, plus behavioural research with the University at Buffalo (USA) in relation to hand washing in the Democratic of Congo, and the development of options for container based sanitation.

From October 2016 ESP have managed to secure a second phase of funding from OFDA, which shall continue for the next two years with IFRC, Oxfam, WASTE and the addition of the Netherlands Red Cross in the consortium. This is hugely strategic for us, as there is still a great deal to do in sanitation -especially when there is no fix-all solution (we need to extend ourselves and think out of the box!) and 2.4 billion (1 in 3) people are living without safe sanitation, which is further exacerbated during a humanitarian crisis . ESP 2 will concentrate on expanding the research from ESP 1 in wastewater treatment and disposal, desludging and transfer stations, latrine lining, container based sanitation, rapid latrine superstructure (better than wooden poles and plastic sheeting) and an equivalent Delagua/Wagtech kit for testing water quality in wastewater.

So, in summary, responding to our toilet duties is an important focus for Oxfam’s WASH team. We continually strive to provide timely, robust and appropriate solutions that provide a dignified sanitation space for users, and reduce public health risks for all.

For more information please contact Jenny Lamb, and keep abreast of updates to our ESP website.