Wanted: toilets that save lives in disasters

Oxfam-provided latrines to be delivered at the Corail resettlement camp in Haiti. The organization is looking for toilet designs that are simple, flat-packed, easily-transportable, and cheap. Photo by: Jane Beelsey / Oxfam / CC BY-NC-ND

Oxfam International is calling on designers, manufacturers and inventors to submit by August 12 cutting-edge ideas for toilets which are simple, flat-packed, easily-transportable, appropriate to the local context and cheap — from a hand-washing device worth a few pounds to £150 for a raised latrine structure.

Angus McBride, emergency sanitation researcher at Oxfam, explained the fresh focus on emergency-use toilets was prompted by a recent global water, sanitation and hygiene gap analysis by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund that pinpointed sanitation as the number one issue that needs new solutions to stem the spread of hygiene-linked diseases in disaster conditions.

“Without safe excreta disposal in emergencies water sources, food, hands are all contaminated from open and uncontrolled defecation which means that people who often haven’t eaten properly for many days are so much more susceptible to intestinal diseases and killer diseases such as cholera,” McBride told Devex.

Innovative designs in the following are needed in the following four areas:

  • Latrine super-structures: a flat-pack or folding enclosure that can be easily erected to give people privacy and dignity in the early stages of an emergency.

  • Raised latrines: when it’s not possible to dig pit latrines, it’s necessary to build upwards. Raised latrine structures are needed which can be air freighted and installed quickly when disaster hits.

  • Trench support: a cheap, lightweight lining for latrine trenches, to help protect against soil collapse.

  • Hand washing facilities: a hygienic tap that will fit on family water containers, to help prevent the spread of disease.

A partnership with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and WASTE, the initiative is funded by a grant from the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.

Devex learned that so far the challenge has received a proposal for a raised latrine with a large bag that can fit in a slot underneath the squat hole, and another proposal that reinvents the classic camping toilet tent for emergency use.

The winning designs will be manufactured and distributed to Oxfam beneficiaries, including Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, Congolese refugees in Uganda, displaced people within the Congo, Sudanese refugees in South Sudan and Burmese nationals in flood-risk camps.

McBride noted that open defecation remains a major problem in many countries. In rural Cambodia, for instance, he said 73 percent of people do not have access to toilets, which makes it hard to maintain an environment free from open defecation in relocation camps during crises.

Read our previous #innov8aid.

About the author

  • Johannamorden profile

    Johanna Morden

    Johanna Morden is a community development worker by training and a global development journalist by profession. As a Devex staff writer based in Manila, she covers the Asian Development Bank as well as Asia-Pacific's aid community at large. Johanna has written for a variety of international publications, covering social issues, disasters, government, ICT, business and the law.

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