Sanitation innovations for humanitarian disasters in urban areas

Organisation: WASTE

Partners: London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Emergency Sanitation Project (ESP), The Sanitation Window (SAWI), The Zuiderzeeland Regional Water Authority

Location: Malawi and a further 5 African locations

Type of grant: WASH

Status: Completed

  • Sampling during field trial in Malawi

  • Experimental set-up in El Alto, Bolivia

  • Sampling during field trial in Malawi


During emergencies in urban settings when space is limited for sanitation and the use of facilities is high, latrines fill-up quickly. WASTE, LSHTM and their partners aim to improve access to a safe sanitation system by: i) identifying, developing, and testing effective bio/chemical additives that convert household faecal matter into a harmless and non-smelling product and ii) prolong the lifetime of on-site sanitation technologies by identifying key characteristics in management and microbiological make-up that could slow the filling-up of latrines.

What is the innovative solution?

The project involves two innovative solutions to guarantee the access to a sanitation system during emergencies:

  1. The use of bio/chemical additives to sanitise and stabilise faecal sludge, and;
  2. Limit fill-up rates of faecal matter in on-site sanitation technologies.

The first innovation aims to sanitise and stabilise faecal matter by: defining the product (bio-additive) requirements in emergency situations; inventorying and short-listing existing bio-additives, and proofing the most promising solutions on real faecal matter.

The second innovation aims to develop a bio-additive that can promote rapid decomposition of faecal matter by: identifying pit’s characteristics to quick decomposition, identifying 100 latrines that never fill-up and sampling and analysing the contents of selected latrines.

How does the innovation build on and improve existing humanitarian practice?

Emergencies vary widely from the urban to refugee camp settings. During emergencies in urban areas when the sewer system is damaged the typical solutions may be household level containers (bags, buckets), however once the containers are full usually they are collected and disposed of in the environment without an appropriate treatment, causing pollution and transmitting diseases to the population. The proposed innovations would identify products (bio/chemical-additives) to facilitate quick and safe disposal of faecal matter and/or reduce the fill-up rate of the container, therefore extending its life.

What materials or research outputs are likely to be produced?

  • Set of requirements for bio/chemical additives to be applied in emergencies.
  • Inventory and short-listing of the most promising bio/chemical additives existing in the market.
  • Protocol to test the application of identified bio/chemical additives.
  • Field test report to prove the products’ applicability.
  • Set of parameters and criteria that define a good performing latrine.
  • Identification of use and management factors associated with increased decomposition.
  • Identification of bacteria, archaea, or enzymes suitable to be explored further as possible bio-additives.

Elrha is a registered charity in England and Wales (1177110).

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