Excreta Disposal

Oxfam WASH programmes will usually have a sanitation component. This aims to ensure appropriate safe sanitation for affected communities, including facilities for excreta disposal and bathing, to minimise risk of WASH-related disease and environmental pollution, in a way that maintains dignity.


Oxfam guidelines

Oxfam Technical Manual: Guidelines for Excreta Disposal in Emergencies

Oxfam Chlorinated Lime Guidelines

Oxfam Technical Brief 1: Excreta Disposal Physically Vulnerable People in Emergenices

Oxfam Technical Brief 2: Vulnerability and Socio-cultural Considerations for PHE in Emergencies

Oxfam Technical Brief 9: Septic Tank Guidelines

Oxfam Technical Brief 10: Plastic sheeting, its use and procurement in humanitarian relief

Oxfam Technical Brief 19: The Use of Poo Bags for Safe Excreta Disposal in Emergency Settings

WEDC book

Excreta Disposal in Emergencies, WEDC, 2007

Emergency Sanitation Project

The Emergency Sanitation Project is a collaboration between IFRC, WASTE and Oxfam GB to solve some of the most difficult challenges with providing sanitation in emergencies.
Visit their website

Other Resources

Child Friendly Hygiene and Sanitation facilities in Schools

Minimum Requirements

General Principles

  • Safe disposal of human excreta creates the first barrier to excreta-related disease by reducing transmission through direct and indirect routes.
  • WASH staff should ensure that the environment is free from human faeces by instigating ‘clean-up’ programmes.
  • Excreta disposal programmes should be based on an understanding of people’s cultural habits and preferences – especially women, children, older people and people with disabilities. They must be consulted on the design, type and location of any sanitation facility, even in a large-scale rapid-onset emergency.
  • Before the construction of any sanitation facility, agree with the users how the facilities will be allocated, maintained and cleaned – and how this is will be monitored.
  • In first-phase emergencies, avoid defecation areas where possible and go straight for shallow trench latrines surrounded by plastic sheeting. The next step, depending on timeliness and community acceptance, is to construct communal latrines, then shared family latrines and then individual family latrines.
  • Balance the potential environmental impact (such as deforestation) when selecting materials for latrine construction, with the urgency of the public health risk.
  • Where possible build latrines that can withstand future disasters and minimise the long term O & M costs

Pit Latrines Planning and Design Criteria

  • A minimum safety distance of 30 metres between latrines and water points is recommended (not applicable in fractured or karstic areas)
  • In the first stages of an emergency, there should be 1 toilet for 50 people and once this target has been met, move on to 1 toilet for 20 people.
  • Separate facilities for men and women are the norm except where consultation (especially with women) suggests otherwise.
  • If constructing communal sanitation facilities, ensure a ratio of 3 female facilities for every male facility. However, this should be based on disaggregated data; for example, if there are more males than females over 10 years old, the ratio will need to be adapted.
  • Spread communal toilet blocks around a camp or village, rather than constructing large clusters of toilets.
  • If the latrine is not ventilated, closable lids should be provided over the squat hole. Chlorinated lime or ash should be provided along with the lid to neutralise smell and reduce fly numbers.
  • There should be no visible gaps between the squat plate and the pit. Gaps can appear through erosion due to lack of proper drainage around the toilet.
  • There should be a privacy wall around facilities for women’s latrines.
  • Every cubicle should have a mechanism to keep the ‘door’ closed from the inside. Shared family latrines should also have a hook for a padlock.
  • Consider the need for distributions of tools for disposal of infants’ and children’s faeces; hygiene promotion should be linked to the means provided for handling faeces.

Toilets in High Water Tables (<1.5m from the surface)

  • For 1st phase emergencies the priority is the containment of excreta rather than protecting the ground water. Dig shallow trenches, at least 30m from a well or spring, as deep as possible and ensure people are not drinking directly from the ground water.
  • As soon as basic safe sanitation is achieved construct raised latrines that do not contaminate the water table (taking into account the fluctuation of water levels and the risk of flooding).
  • Where possible use latrines such as urine diversion, ecosan or worm based latrines that minimise desludging frequencies.

Pit Latrine de-sludging

  • Any toilet designed to be de-sludged should have:
    • A lined pit (if the pit is unlined, the mechanical vacuum process may collapse the pit walls);
    • An access hole/slab where a pump/suction hose can be inserted or people can enter (the squat hole is often not large enough for the pump foot valve);
    • A safe, properly organised and clearly marked final disposal site for the excreta;
    • A sustainable community/household de-sludging methodology in place for long-term situations.

Hand Washing after defecation

  • Hand washing should be promoted wherever Oxfam constructs or repairs latrines – either at the latrine or at the household level and should be supported by the provision of soap and hand-washing devices.
  • Handwashing facilities should be provided at all institutional and public toilets

Emergency and Semi-Permanent Toilet Facilities

  • The timing of the decision to move from rapid ‘emergency’ latrines to semi-permanent constructions is difficult to predict. However:
    • If affected communities are still living in plastic sheet structures, latrine structures with a metal roof and walls (or other more permanent material) should not be constructed, as the population might dismantle the latrines to improve their shelters and thus make the latrines inoperable.
    • Toilets may need to be upgraded where they are required for longer than 3 months bearing in mind environmental, budgetary and longevity constraints.
  • In some contexts, there are political connotations to constructing semi-permanent latrines in temporary settlements

Design of School Latrines

  • Camp school latrines should be semi-permanent, whereas permanent structures are built for existing schools. It is important to match the construction materials of the school building (an exception to this is when metal roofing is used to enable catchment of rainwater for handwashing etc.).
  • There should be a viable water source located near the latrines to enable anal cleansing, handwashing, and latrine cleaning.
  • School toilets should be segregated for boys and girls.
  • The toilets should be scaled down to suit children’s needs, especially the squat hole and foot rests.
  • There should be adequate light entering the toilet unit to ensure that children can see where to urinate/defecate and are not afraid to use the toilets.
  • According to culture, urinals should also be provided for males.
  • There should be a privacy screen, especially for girl’s facilities.
  • There should be hand-washing facilities for each block of toilets.
  • There should be at least 1 male and female toilet for disabled pupils.
  • Operation (cleaning arrangements) and maintenance systems should be agreed before beginning construction of school latrines.

Latrine Decommissioning

  • When latrines are full or if the affected community is moving to new area, latrines should be decommissioned / backfilled in a safe and effective manner.
  • Make sure that all the health and safety precautions are in place.
  • Supply small sealable containers of chlorinated lime to the community groups or the people who will carry out the activity.
  • Before removing the latrine slab sprinkle, by hand, a thin layer of chlorinated lime in the pit being closed (backfilled) or decommissioned before the fill material is added. Then fill with soil or sand (at least 50cms), making sure that the entire surface of the pit contents are fully covered.
  • The latrine slab should be kept over the pit for 1 week.
  • Remove the latrine slab and saturate the slab by pouring or spraying it with a 1% stock solution of chlorine on the latrine slab. Allow the chlorine solution to dry naturally before placing back in stock to be reused. If wooden supports are in good condition they should be cleaned and reused in the same way.
  • Make sure that the closed pit surface is firmly compacted and marked (by a small thorn fence or planting a tree or similar).