Emergency sanitation

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Emergency toilet in Haiti, suitable for areas where digging pit latrines is not possible Raised toilet in Haiti (7281252188).jpg
Emergency toilet in Haiti, suitable for areas where digging pit latrines is not possible

Emergency sanitation is the management and technical processes required to provide sanitation in emergency situations. This can include man-made or natural disasters. Emergency sanitation is also required during humanitarian relief operations for refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

Sanitation public health conditions related to clean drinking water and adequate disposal of human excreta and sewage

Sanitation refers to public health conditions related to clean drinking water and adequate treatment and disposal of human excreta and sewage. Preventing human contact with feces is part of sanitation, as is hand washing with soap. Sanitation systems aim to protect human health by providing a clean environment that will stop the transmission of disease, especially through the fecal–oral route. For example, diarrhea, a main cause of malnutrition and stunted growth in children, can be reduced through sanitation. There are many other diseases which are easily transmitted in communities that have low levels of sanitation, such as ascariasis, cholera, hepatitis, polio, schistosomiasis, trachoma, to name just a few.

Emergency situation such as a natural or man-made disaster requiring urgent assistance

An emergency is a situation that poses an immediate risk to health, life, property, or environment. Most emergencies require urgent intervention to prevent a worsening of the situation, although in some situations, mitigation may not be possible and agencies may only be able to offer palliative care for the aftermath.

Natural disaster major adverse event resulting from natural processes of the Earth

A natural disaster is a major adverse event resulting from natural processes of the Earth; examples are floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, and other geologic processes. A natural disaster can cause loss of life or damage property, and typically leaves some economic damage in its wake, the severity of which depends on the affected population's resilience, or ability to recover and also on the infrastructure available.


Emergency situations are classified into three phases which are called the "immediate", "short-term" and "long-term" phases. In the immediate phase, the focus is on reducing open defecation. Toilets provided might include very basic latrines, pit latrines, bucket toilets, container-based toilets or chemical toilets.

Open defecation is the human practice of defecating outside rather than into a toilet. People may choose fields, bushes, forests, ditches, streets, canals or other open space for defecation. They do so because either they do not have a toilet readily accessible or due to traditional cultural practices. The practice is common where sanitation infrastructure and services are not available. Even if toilets are available, behavior change efforts may still be needed to promote the use of toilets. The term "open defecation free" (ODF) is used to describe communities that have shifted to using a toilet instead of open defecation. This can happen for example after community-led total sanitation programs have been implemented.

Latrine Toilet or an even simpler facility which is used as a toilet within a sanitation system

A latrine is a toilet or an even simpler facility which is used as a toilet within a sanitation system. For example, it can be a communal trench in the earth in a camp to be used as emergency sanitation, a hole in the ground, or more advanced designs, including pour-flush systems.

Bucket toilet A basic form of a dry toilet with a bucket

A bucket toilet is a basic form of a dry toilet whereby a bucket (pail) is used to collect excreta. Usually, feces and urine are collected together in the same bucket, leading to odor issues. The bucket may be situated inside a dwelling, or in a nearby small structure.

Providing showers and handwashing facilities is also part of emergency sanitation during all phases. Fecal sludge management becomes a priority during the long-term emergency management phase.

Hand washing The act of cleaning ones hands

Hand washing, also known as hand hygiene, is the act of cleaning hands for the purpose of removing soil, dirt, and microorganisms. If water and soap is not available, hands can be cleaned with ash instead.

Fecal sludge management Collection, transport, and treatment of fecal sludge from onsite sanitation systems

Fecal sludge management (FSM) is the collection, transport, and treatment of fecal sludge from pit latrines, septic tanks or other onsite sanitation systems. Fecal sludge is a mixture of human excreta, water and solid wastes that are disposed in pits, tanks or vaults of onsite sanitation systems. Fecal sludge that is removed from septic tanks is called septage.


The term "Emergency" is perceived differently by different people and organisations. In a general sense, an emergency may be considered to be a phenomenon originating from a man-made and/or natural disaster which results in a serious, usually sudden threat to the health or well-being of the affected community which relies on external assistance to easily cope up with the situation. [1]

There are different categories of emergency depending on its time frame, whether it lasts for few weeks, several months or years. [1]

The number of people who are and will be affected by catastrophes (human crisis and natural disasters), which are increasing in magnitude and frequency, is rapidly increasing. The affected people are subjected to such dangers as temporary homelessness and risks to life and health. [2]


Emergency pit latrines with bathing shelters built in the Bidi Bidi refugee settlement in northern Uganda Emergencysan unhcr.jpg
Emergency pit latrines with bathing shelters built in the Bidi Bidi refugee settlement in northern Uganda

To address the problem of public health and the spread of dangerous diseases that come as a result of lack of sanitation and open defecation, humanitarian actors focus on the construction of, for example, pit latrines and the implementation of hygiene promotion programmes. [3]

The supply of drinking water in an urban-setting emergency has been improved by the introduction of standardised, rapid deployment kits.

In the immediate emergency phase, the focus is on managing open defecation, and toilet technologies might include very basic trench latrines, pit latrines, bucket toilets, container-based toilets, chemical toilets. The short term phase might also involve technologies such as urine-diverting dry toilets, septic tanks, decentralized wastewater systems.

In urban emergencies, the main focus is usually on a quick rehabilitation and extension of existing services such as sewer-lines and waste-water treatment plants. This can also include the installation of sewerage pumping stations to improve or extend services.


The emergency response often has to differ greatly based on the setting it takes place.

Home based

Home based settings where people choose to stay in or close to their homes (or those of their relatives, neighbours or friends). While this setting offers the quickest way to (self-) recovery, it also poses a high risk of sanitation related impacts due to the common lack of access to outside help and inadequate public-health monitoring.

Host community

Host community settings with significant displacement into outside communities (usually urban) with existing but maybe also effected sanitation infrastructure in private homes.

Existing infrastructure in such settings is usually quickly overloaded due to the increase in population density and improvements/repair is often hindered by access- and space-limitations. Intra-community conflicts over the sanitation waste management are thus fairly common.

Mass shelter

Mass shelter settings where the displaced population is housed in existing but often re-purposed building-complexes such as schools, community centres, places of worship, malls, warehouses and sport stadiums. In some disaster prone countries, dedicated large emergency shelters are build for this purpose.

Existing sanitation facilities are usually inadequate for full-time stay of a high number of people, and the non-emergency management structures are typically unable or unwilling to continue their services. Legal issues over the re-purposing are also fairly common, especially if occupation continues for a longer time.

Due to usually cramped living conditions there is a high risk of conflict and often also cases of sexual violence, both of which often are in some relation to the sanitation facilities.

Emergency settlements

Emergency settlements (formal or informal) where previously sparsely populated areas are newly occupied by the displaced population in large numbers. Typically these are set up by governments, the UN and humanitarian aid organisations.

Due to the typically short time frame of arrivals and the non-existing infrastructure, these kind of encampments pose maybe the greatest challenge in regards to providing adequate emergency sanitation facilities.


Emergency pit lining kits, suitable for areas with high water table Emergency pit lining kits by Evenproducts (6619616743).jpg
Emergency pit lining kits, suitable for areas with high water table

The provision of sanitation programmes is usually more challenging than water supply as it provides a limited choice of technologies. [3] [4] This is exacerbated by the overwhelming and diverse needs of WASH. [4]

Challenges with excreta disposal in emergencies include:

See also

Related Research Articles

Composting toilet A type of toilet that treats human excreta by a biological process called composting

A composting toilet is a type of toilet that treats human excreta by a biological process called composting. This process leads to the decomposition of organic matter and turns human excreta into compost. It is carried out by microorganisms under controlled aerobic conditions. Most composting toilets use no water for flushing and are therefore "dry toilets".

Human waste refers to the waste products of the human digestive system and the human metabolism, namely feces and urine. As part of a sanitation system that is in place, human waste is collected, transported, treated and disposed of or reused by one method or another, depending on the type of toilet being used, ability by the users to pay for services and other factors.

Pit latrine Toilet that collects human feces in a hole in the ground

A pit latrine, also known as pit toilet or long drop, is a type of toilet that collects human feces in a hole in the ground. Urine and feces enter the pit through a drop hole in the floor, which might be connected to a toilet seat or squatting pan for user comfort. Pit latrines can be built to function without water or they can have a water seal. When properly built and maintained, pit latrines can decrease the spread of disease by reducing the amount of human feces in the environment from open defecation. This decreases the transfer of pathogens between feces and food by flies. These pathogens are major causes of infectious diarrhea and intestinal worm infections. Infectious diarrhea resulted in about 700,000 deaths in children under five years old in 2011 and 250 million lost school days. Pit latrines are a low cost method of separating feces from people.

Community-led total sanitation An approach to improve sanitation and hygiene practices in a community

Community-led total sanitation (CLTS) is an approach used mainly in developing countries to improve sanitation and hygiene practices in a community. It focuses on spontaneous and long-lasting behavior change of an entire community. The goal of CLTS is to end open defecation. The term "triggering" is central to the CLTS process. It refers to ways of igniting community interest in ending open defecation, usually by building simple toilets, such as pit latrines. CLTS involves actions leading to increased self-respect and pride in one's community. It also involves shame and disgust about one's own open defecation behaviors.

Manual scavenging A term used mainly in India for a caste-based occupation involving the manual removal of excreta from bucket toilets and alike

Manual scavenging is a term used mainly in India for the manual removal of untreated human excreta from bucket toilets or pit latrines by hand with buckets and shovels. It has been officially prohibited by law in 1993 due to it being regarded as a caste-based, dehumanizing practice. It involves moving the excreta, using brooms and tin plates, into baskets, which the workers carry to disposal locations sometimes several kilometers away. The workers, called scavengers, rarely have any personal protective equipment. Manual scavenging is a caste-based occupation, with the vast majority of workers involved being women.

Sustainable sanitation Sanitation system designed to meet certain criteria and to work well over the long-term

Sustainable sanitation is a sanitation system designed to meet certain criteria and to work well over the long-term. The Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA) includes five features in its definition of "sustainable sanitation." Systems need to be economically and socially acceptable, technically and institutionally appropriate and protect the environment and natural resources.

Improved sanitation is a term used to categorize types or levels of sanitation for monitoring purposes. The term was coined by the Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation of UNICEF and WHO in 2002 to help monitor the progress towards Goal Number 7 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The opposite of "improved sanitation" has been termed "unimproved sanitation" in the JMP definitions.

Toilet Piece of hardware for the collection of disposal of human excreta

A toilet is a piece of hardware used for the collection or disposal of human urine and feces. In other words: "Toilets are sanitation facilities at the user interface that allow the safe and convenient urination and defecation". Toilets can be with or without flushing water. They can be set up for a sitting posture or for a squatting posture. Flush toilets are usually connected to a sewer system in urban areas and to septic tanks in less built-up areas. Dry toilets are connected to a pit, removable container, composting chamber, or other storage and treatment device. Toilets are commonly made of ceramic (porcelain), concrete, plastic, or wood.

Dry toilet A toilet that operates without flush water

A dry toilet is a toilet that operates without flush water, unlike a flush toilet. The dry toilet may have a raised pedestal on which the user can sit, or a squat pan over which the user squats in the case of a squat toilet. In both cases, the excreta falls through a drop hole.

Urine-diverting dry toilet Dry toilet with separate collection of feces and urine without any flush water

A urine-diverting dry toilet (UDDT) is a type of dry toilet with urine diversion that can be used to provide safe, affordable sanitation in a variety of contexts worldwide. Through the separate collection of feces and urine without any flush water, many advantages can be realized, such as odor-free operation and pathogen reduction by drying. While dried feces and urine harvested from UDDTs can be and routinely are used in agriculture, many UDDTs installations do not apply any sort of recovery scheme. The UDDT is an example of a technology that can be used to achieve a sustainable sanitation system. This dry excreta management system is an alternative to pit latrines and flush toilets, especially where water is scarce, a connection to a sewer system and centralized wastewater treatment plant is not feasible or desired, fertilizer and soil conditioner are needed for agriculture, or groundwater pollution should be minimized.

Reuse of excreta Safe, beneficial use of animal or human excreta

Reuse of excreta refers to the safe, beneficial use of animal or human excreta, i.e. feces and urine. Such beneficial use involves mainly the nutrient, organic matter and energy contained in excreta, rather than the water content. Reuse of excreta can involve using it as soil conditioner or fertilizer in agriculture, gardening, aquaculture or horticultural activities. Excreta can also be used as a fuel source or as a building material.

Omni Processor A group of physical, biological or chemical treatment processes to process fecal sludge

Omni Processor is a name proposed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a group of physical, biological or chemical treatment processes to process fecal sludge – a mixture of human excreta and water – in developing countries. One of the main treatment aims is pathogen removal to stop the spread of disease from fecal sludge. The term was created by staff of the Water, Sanitation, Hygiene Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2012. It is not a trade mark for one specific product or technology. Several research teams are currently developing various types of omni processors with funding from the foundation. Examples of technologies which Omni Processors may employ include combustion, supercritical water oxidation and pyrolysis.

Decentralized wastewater system Processes to convey, treat and dispose or reuse wastewater from small communities and alike

Decentralized wastewater systems convey, treat and dispose or reuse wastewater from small communities, buildings and dwellings in remote areas, individual public or private properties. Wastewater flow is generated when appropriate water supply is available within the buildings or close to them.

Container-based sanitation Sanitation system where toilets collect human excreta in sealable, removable containers

Container-based sanitation refers to a sanitation system where toilets collect human excreta in sealable, removable containers that are transported to treatment facilities. This type of sanitation involves a commercial service which provides toilets and delivers empty containers when picking up full ones. The service transports and safely disposes of or reuses collected excreta.


  1. 1 2 Peter Harvey, with contrib. from Andy Bastable...[et al.] (2007). Excreta disposal in emergencies a field manual : an inter-agency publication. Loughborough: Loughborough university. Water, engineering and development centre (WEDC). p. 250. ISBN   9781843801139.
  2. BORDA (2010). EmSan - Emergency Sanitation - An innovative & rapidly applicable solution to safeguard hygiene and health in emergency situations. Bremen Overseas Research and Development Association (BORDA) & BORDA BNS Network
  3. 1 2 Grange, C. (2016). Faecal Sludge Management - WASH in Emergencies, Problem Exploration Report. HIF (Humanitarian Innovation Fund) Problem Exploration Report. Cardiff: ELRHA
  4. 1 2 "Urban Humanitarian Response Portal". urban-response.org. Retrieved 2017-04-19.
  5. 1 2 Bastable, A., Russell, L. (2013). Gap Analysis in Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion. Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF), London, UK
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