Oxfam has a long history of developing new innovations and technologies. On this page you will find information about the WASH Gap Analysis, Oxfam's past innovations, and current innovation projects.
Oxfam's History of Innovation
Below are some of Oxfam’s key WASH innovations. Many of these are used across the entire WASH sector. Read about our Innovation Outcomes in full.
Quick, cheap, and easy to install in an emergency. Originally developed by Oxfam and KK Nag, variants of this are now ubiquitous in humanitarian responses everywhere.
Stackable like a bucket, but once assembled the lid can't be removed and it transforms in a jerrycan. More robust than a regular container, not too heavy to carry, cleanable, and with no 'dimple' on the bottom so it can be carried on the head
We were one of the first to recognise the need to work with communities to promote health, alongside building infrastructure. To this day we are one of few agencies to have a seperate 'PHP' team.
Rocky conditions in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia and collapsing soil in Gambella, Ethiopia, meant that normal pit latrines were difficult to dig. Oxfam have pioneered the use of double vault Urine Diverting Dry Toilets in refugee camps to overcome this.
We pioneered the development and use of large, robust water tanks for humanitarian emergencies. They pack down easily for transport, but can be rapidly assembled for water treatment or storage. Now used by many agencies around the world.
Fresh from several years of product development, including rounds of field testing, our new handwashing stand provides more functionality for use outside of communal latrines.
Research in emergency settings has shown that humanitarian agencies are failing to properly consult the users of the latrines they build, leading many people – especially women and girls- to stop using those latrines as they find them inaccessible, unsuitable and/or unsafe. The Sani Tweaks approach is to consult, modify, and consult again. It has been rolled out across Oxfam programmes, and at two major interagency forums.
Using a mobile app to systematically collect, analyse and use qualitative information relating to people’s perceptions, beliefs, ideas and rumours. This helps to identify critical information gaps and to adapt information content on an ongoing basis. This is critical to promote trust and support behavioural changes
Although not a new technology, Oxfam partnered with IOM to run the Global Solar Water Project. Through offering practical advice, trainings and support visits the project has increased the ability of WASH practitioners to undertake solar pumping. There has already been a huge change in thinking about solar across the humanitarian sector, with several water systems running fully on solar power.
The WASH Innovation Fund
Since 2004, Oxfam carried out 72 distinct WASH innovation projects, and many of the innovations have since been implemented by other agencies. The aims of the fund are:
- Encourage a culture of innovation amongst our Oxfam field staff, who are encouraged and rewarded for seeking out new ways of working
- Play a critical role in helping the WASH sector develop more effective approaches and technologies, thereby improving the impact WASH programmes have on the poor and disaster affected people. The key here is that we are creating models that governments, institutions and the wider WASH sector as whole can follow and implement, not exclusive to Oxfam
Below are some examples of recent WASH Innovation Fund projects:
How do you improve access to sanitation in densely populated low income and informal urban settlements where there is limited space and complex land tenure restrict building latrines? Faced with the realization that conventional solutions could not solve the sanitation crisis, Oxfam in Kenya got creative and became a pioneer of container based sanitation.
Existing desalination technologies are expensive and complex to operate and produce a lot of saline wastewater. Oxfam has been working with private sector partners to power desalination systems with renewable energy, improve efficiency, adapt and explore new technology which can be used in humanitarian contexts.
Surface water requires pretreatment prior to chlorination. The “Lamella Clarifier” kit was developed to improve on the regular sedimentation often used in humanitarian programmes and in 2021 and 2022 was field trialed in Uganda.
Producing fuel briquettes made from organic waste within a refugee camp reduces the need to cut trees. If refugees don't need to forage for firewood it reduces the risk of conflict and gender based violence, it generates employment and when the main ingredient is faecal sludge, it incentivizes sanitation service provision by finding a productive use of waste being produced.
Automated dispensers (aka water ATMs) have been used with success in urban contexts to improve performance, revenue collection and accountability. This initiative is exploring whether they are appropriate in refugee settlements in Uganda.
According to the World Bank two thirds of rural water systems in Kenya's ASALs are severely dysfunctional within 3-5 years. This project aims to address this problem through establishing service level maintenance agreements between service providers and private sector specialists.
The septic tank kit aims to provide a first phase sanitation solution where conventional latrines are not possible - e.g. rocky, flooded or collapsible soils. Oxfam is field trialing the kit in South Sudan before considering wider adoption and scale up.