Sustainable, worm-based, communal sanitation for refugee camps

Organisation: Oxfam

Partners: UNESCO-IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, Netherlands

Location: Say Tha Mar Gyi IDP Camp and Mingan IDP Relocation Area in rural Sittwe Rakhine State Myanmar

Type of grant: Core – development

Status: Ongoing

  • Tiger Worms

  • The existing market for nutrient-rich vermicompost in Yangon could mean the Tiger Worm Toilet concept is more readily accepted. Credit: Dr Claire Furlong

  • The India Blue (Perionyx excavatus) composting worm, bought from the Men’s Association Agricultural Training Centre in Yangon. Credit: Dr Claire Furlong

  • The project team visiting the government-run worm farm at the Vegetable and Fruit Research Development Centre in Yangon. Credit: Dr Claire Furlong

  • Bagus demonstrating toilet use on a partially-constructed communal TWT in Say Tha Mar Gyi camp, with a raised tank at the back of the toilet block to overcome high groundwater. Credit: Mee Mee Htun/Oxfam

  • A new communal TWT in the centre, blending in with other standard pit latrine toilets in Say Tha Mar Gyi camp. Credit: Bagus Setyawan/Oxfam

  • The India Blue (Perionyx excavatus) variety of composting worm. One kg of worms is added to a toilet for up to five users. Credit: Bagus Setyawan/Oxfam

  • The popular new Tiger Worm Toilet (left) in Mingan IDP village, next to the family’s previous toilet (right). Credit: Lucy Polson/Oxfam

  • Oxfam wormery in Say Tha Mar Gyi camp, using dried sludge from the camp’s faecal sludge treatment plant. Credit: Lucy Polson/Oxfam

  • Cyclone Mora caused damage to roofs and doors in standard latrines (circular tank) & Tiger Worm Toilets (rectangular tank) in Say Tha Mar Gyi camp. Credit: Mee Mee Htun/Oxfam

  • Mee Mee Htun shows one of the “little sanitation engineers” within an Oxfam wormery. Credit: Rhea Catada/Oxfam

  • Mee Mee Htun, Public Health Engineering Officer, outside communal Tiger Worm Toilets in Say Tha Mar Gyi camp. Credit: Rhea Catada/Oxfam

  • Bagus Setyawan setting up a tiger worm toilet pit (shared by two communal toilets). Credit: Rhea Catada/Oxfam

  • Participatory Monitoring with TWT users in Say Tha Mar Gyi Camp. Credit: Oo Shwe Than/Oxfam

  • Oo Shwe Than helping to prepare a TWT raised pit in Say Tha Mar Gyi camp with worms. Credit: Mee Mee Htun/Oxfam

  • Oo Shwe Than inspecting a TWT pit in Mingan during monthly monitoring. Credit: Mee Mee Htun/Oxfam

  • Focus Group Discussion in Say Tha Mar Gyi camp to get feedback from the TWT users on the initial sketches. Credit: Oo Shwe Than/Oxfam

  • One of the initial sketches depicting good toilet practice. Credit: Chema Roman/Oxfam

  • One of the final designs, incorporating edits fed back from the communities. Credit: Chema Roman/Oxfam

  • Dr Claire Furlong guiding vermicompost sampling during monsoon rains in STMG camp, July 2018. Credit: Lucy Polson/Oxfam

  • Vermicompost sampling in STMG camp. Credit: Lucy Polson/Oxfam

  • WASH Assistant Bo Bo Tun recording a labelled vermicompost sample in STMG camp, July 2018.Credit: Lucy Polson/Oxfam

  • Front cover of the draft Tiger Worm Toilet Manual, which will help guide others in Myanmar and beyond (credit: Christian Snoad/Oxfam)

  • Workshop participants learning about Tiger Worm Toilet results (credit: Benedict Wood/Oxfam)


The need for an economically and environmentally sustainable sanitation alternative to the commonly used pit latrine in humanitarian camps – particularly as camp longevity is increasing. There are currently over 12 million people living in humanitarian camps worldwide and 3.2 million are in African camps. Providing sustainable sanitation for these populations in a timely and cost efficient way is a huge

challenge, given unfavourable ground conditions. Presently, the suite of technologies employed is very limited. The most common technology is the pit latrine, which requires frequent emptying by tanker or manual labour with faecal sludge either transported off-site or buried.


The TWT is the nearest technology available to a ‘perpetual toilet’- using worms to continuously treat human waste, transforming it into vermicompost with potential economic and environmental benefits.

Proven at household level in urban and rural settings, this initiative will adapt the technology to serve more users (10-20 people/toilet) in communal latrine blocks/shared family toilets within a humanitarian setting. It will also allow worms to be added later, if not immediately available during an emergency.

Benefits include increasing camp sustainability by reducing frequency of latrine emptying, respective treatment of faecal waste, and providing a concept that can be constructed above and/or below ground (depending on conditions). The system also lends well to user preference, and can be offset or direct drop with a flushing system (using anal cleansing water).

If successful, this innovation could provide a sustainable, safer and more affordable sanitation alternative to the current use of pit latrines.


For people visiting a Tiger Worm Toilet, this innovation will improve user experience as it is flushing, odourless and fly-free.

For agencies, governments and donors supporting humanitarian camp sanitation, it will increase environmental and economical sustainability and close the sanitation loop.

This is because the TWT is treating the waste on site, reducing frequency of emptying. In the vermifilter, the by-product is generated at the top of the system meaning emptying becomes easier. For the household systems, it has been estimated that they will require emptying once every five years. Additionally, the by-product is relatively dry, odourless humus that can be used as a soil conditioner or buried on-site.

This initiative will produce a Design and Operation Manual and an Implementation Manual for the TWT, providing a ‘pick up and go’ pack to be used and replicated by other WaSH stakeholders – thus increasing the uptake, experience, and scale of TWT.

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

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