WatSan.eu Feeds

🔒
❌ About FreshRSS
There are new articles available, click to refresh the page.
Before yesterdayWASH OFXAM Blogs

Reinventing the toilet

19 November 2018 at 12:34

Brian McSorley on Oxfam’s contribution to ensuring the poorest people on the planet have access to a loo.

Dunster House’s mould of a urine diverting plastic latrine slab. Image: Dunster House

Dunster House’s mould of a urine diverting plastic latrine slab. Image: Dunster House

Earlier this month, Bill Gates stood up to address an international conference holding a jar full of human faeces.  In a sector that has been underfunded and overlooked for decades, The Gates Foundation has been a disruptive and positive force in raising awareness of the catastrophic consequences of poor sanitation. It has challenged people to think differently, and has invested millions of dollars in research, to develop new technologies and solutions to the world’s sanitation crisis.

Why is sanitation so important?

A third of people on the planet do not have access to a toilet. Consequently, up to one billion people relieve themselves in the open, behind bushes, in street gutters, or into rivers; posing a serious health risk to themselves and others around them. 

Practical, affordable and durable solutions are likely to be much more ‘low-tech’.
The WHO estimates that a child dies every two minutes from diarrhoea that could have been prevented by adequate sanitation.

Oxfam is collaborating with the Gates Foundation to explore innovative new ways of providing safe sanitation. However, practical, affordable and durable solutions for the poorest people on the planet are likely to be much more ‘low-tech’.

Alternatives to pit latrines

Across large parts of the world and in most camps for refugees and displaced people, pit latrines are the most common type of toilet. Dig a hole, cover it with a slab, walls and a lockable door for privacy and the pit will fill slowly and safely over time.  However, in flood-prone areas, and sandy or rocky ground, digging a hole to build a pit latrine toilet is often not possible or is prohibitively expensive. Therefore, alternative solutions are needed.

Over the past five years, Oxfam has both revived old toilet technologies in the humanitarian sector, and pioneered new ones.  Tiger worm toilets allow worms to feed off the faeces and break it down like compost. Urine diversion toilets that separate ‘pee’ from ‘poo’ reduces smell.  Crucially, both technologies prolong the life of a toilet as the underground pit or chamber fills more slowly.  This reduces costs to empty or rebuild the toilet when full.

Building on this success, Oxfam has been working with three different partners to develop deployable kits that meet immediate sanitation needs in the aftermath of a humanitarian disaster.

Lightweight “pop-up” septic tanks

BORDA’s design of pop-up septic tank for use in emergencies. Photo: Brian McSorley

BORDA’s pop-up septic tank design, for use in emergencies. Photo: Brian McSorley

Septic tanks were developed in the mid 19th century, and the technology hasn’t really evolved since.  In the absence of a sewer to transport waste from a toilet, it is contained, with anaerobic conditions breaking down the harmful organisms, reducing the volume of the sludge and improving the quality of effluent to a point where it can percolate safely into the ground.

This new piece of equipment has been successfully tested at a sewage treatment works by Oxfam’s partner, BORDA.  It is now ready for deployment to Bangladesh as part of Oxfam’s Rohingya response which is helping an estimated 200,000.  Each septic tank can serve 500 people and has the potential to save thousands of pounds each year in desludging costs.

Lightweight plastic squatting plates

Following the success of Oxfam’s work in refugee camps in Ethiopia, the United Nations refugee agency has adopted urine diversion toilets as a preferred technology.  To enable organisations to build these more easily and quickly, Oxfam has developed a lightweight plastic squatting plate that can be airfreighted in bulk to anywhere in the world. In partnership with Dunster House, we are also making a mould to enable local production of urine diversion toilets. These products will be sent to Uganda and Ethiopia for final field trials. If successful, we will start mass production.

Container-based toilets

Sanergy’s design of container-based toilet. Photo: : Brian McSorley.

Sanergy’s container-based toilet design. Photo: Brian McSorley

Oxfam continues to partner with Sanergy, a Nairobi based social enterprise, to explore the potential of container-based toilets in refugee contexts.  Like a camping toilet (but without the need for chemicals or additives), a container-based toilet provides an immediate “out of the box” solution. No digging or construction needed, just a private place in a home or dwelling to put it.

With recent highlighting the widespread protection risks that particularly women face in accessing shared public toilets, this could be appropriate on a much larger scale.  A critical factor to its acceptance and success is the need to establish a safe, trustworthy and cost effective collection model to get waste from the toilet to a point of disposal.  Linked with this are efforts to utilise the waste to produce products of economic value such as fuel briquettes, organic fertiliser or animal feed.

3D printed toilets

With funding from Oxfam, Sanergy has 3D printed a toilet which it is currently testing in an urban Kenyan slum.  This is the forth toilet prototype that Oxfam has supported since it started this work in 2010.  The current re-design aims to reduce the manufacturing cost, make the toilet more compact and cost effective to airfreight, and make it easier to empty and service whilst not compromising on comfort and convenience for users.

Refinement and adaption may not capture the imagination or the headlines in the same way as reinvention, but this is what’s really needed to ensure that the poorest, most marginalised people on the planet have access to this most basic necessity.

This work is being funded through grant support from the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA).

Author
Brian McSorely

Brian McSorely

Brian is a Water & Sanitation Engineering Adviser for the Horn and East Africa region. He first joined Oxfam in 2003 as a Public Health Engineering Adviser in Eritrea. In 2006 he became WASH Coordinator for Oxfam in Kenya, responsible for overseeing Oxfam's water and sanitation work to pastoralist communities in Northern Kenya, as well as residents of Nairobi slums and refugees. Between 2010-2013 Brian managed Oxfam's refugee programme in Dadaab, which provided water and sanitation to over 80,000 refugees. Brian took up his current role as a technical adviser in April 2016.

The future of humanitarian water provision is solar

29 August 2018 at 10:00

For World Water Week, Oxfam Engineering Adviser Brian McSorley reflects on the achievements of the Global Solar Water Initiative and the potential of solar water pumps to transform lives and ways of working.

Joseph Ayawin taking care of the solar powered borehole in Kpatua, Ghana, part of an Oxfam initiative to help irrigate farmland. Credit: Nana Kofi Acquah/Oxfam

Joseph Ayawin taking care of the solar powered borehole in Kpatua, Ghana, part of an Oxfam initiative to help irrigate farmland. Credit: Nana Kofi Acquah/Oxfam

Solar power offers so many possibilities for development and humanitarian aid, from lighting, to internet connectivity and water provision. If you are involved in helping communities access clean water, almost anywhere where Oxfam is working, the following question is a no brainer:

Where solar radiation is a freely available natural resource in abundant supply, why rely on diesel fuel -which is expensive, difficult to source in remote areas, to power a generator, which is a complex piece of mechanics, that frequently breaks down with skilled expertise and spare parts hard to find?

Oxfam in Dadaab

Less than six years ago in 2012, Oxfam installed the first solar water pumping system in Dadaab refugee camp, Kenya. At the time Dadaab was already 20 years old and recognised as the largest refugee camp in the world with a population of nearly half a million people. The initiative was a natural progression of Oxfam’s work in arid and semi-arid regions in East Africa, where for over a decade we had been promoting solar water pumping as a more cost effective and sustainable solution to meeting the water needs of drought affected rural communities. Building on the success of this we started expanding the work to camps in neighbouring countries, but were rebuffed by one key major donor who didn’t believe that renewable energy was appropriate or cost effective for refugee camps.

Lodwar solar installation part of an Oxfam project to support the water utility company to improve water supply in Lodwar Town in Turkana, Kenya. Credit: Brian McSorley

Lodwar solar installation part of an Oxfam project to support the water utility company to improve water supply in Lodwar Town in Turkana, Kenya. Credit: Brian McSorley

The year on year drop in the price of solar “photovoltaic” panels, combined with major improvements to solar pumping components is a game changer in addressing the challenges of providing affordable and reliable water service provision. However the speed of change was such that donors, engineers and key decision makers in Government where not aware, and we had not helped by failing to gather and document a clear evidence base on the impact of our work.

The Global Solar Water Initiative

This was the basis of the formation of the Global Solar Water Initiative (GSWI) formed by Oxfam, IOM and NRC in 2016. Through training, undertaking technical field assessments, managing a technical helpline, documenting and disseminating best practice, the GSWI has improved awareness, developed and strengthened technical skills and built an evidence based to lobby Governments and donors to invest more in renewable solar energy and enable humanitarian responders to increase the number of solar pumping systems being used within humanitarian operations globally.

By analysing 140 different water schemes, we have found that switching to solar will pay for itself within four years, and in some circumstances, solar is cheaper than a diesel generator from day one.
Since then, the two person full time team that constitutes the GSWI, has visited 55 camps and communities, conducted training workshops in eight countries and addressed technical queries from 80 organizations, across five continents. By analysing 140 different water schemes, we have found that switching to solar will pay for itself within four years, and in some circumstances, solar is cheaper than a diesel generator from day one. Over the life time of these systems solar will be 40-90% cheaper.

Scaling up the solar solution

Things are changing, but not fast enough. Dadaab is no longer the largest camp in the world, many refugees have returned home and one camp has closed, but it was arguably the first of its kind in terms of seeking more cost effective and sustainable water supply services.

However, in many other countries knowledge about solar pumps and the benefits of solar power is still low. This helps to explain why there has been such a demand for the services of the GSWI and feedback from country technical visits and trainings has been so positive. As a result, by popular demand, additional funding has been secured for a second phase of the project which will enable the initiative to expand into new countries in 2018 and 2019. This is only accelerating the inevitable – solar renewable energy is the future – but the sooner it is scaled up, the more people can be reached and the better quality of service people affected by humanitarian crises will receive.

Author
Brian McSorely

Brian McSorely

Brian is a Water & Sanitation Engineering Adviser for the Horn and East Africa region. He first joined Oxfam in 2003 as a Public Health Engineering Adviser in Eritrea. In 2006 he became WASH Coordinator for Oxfam in Kenya, responsible for overseeing Oxfam's water and sanitation work to pastoralist communities in Northern Kenya, as well as residents of Nairobi slums and refugees. Between 2010-2013 Brian managed Oxfam's refugee programme in Dadaab, which provided water and sanitation to over 80,000 refugees. Brian took up his current role as a technical adviser in April 2016.

❌