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A new “no-water” latrine model helps refugees in dry parts of Ethiopia

In 2011, as famine hit Somalia, tens of thousands of refugees fled to the Dollo Ado camps in Ethiopia. There are now five camps in Dollo Ado, sheltering over 190,000 people – making it one of the largest refugee sites in the world. Hilaweyn, the fifth camp, was set up after the others reached full capacity, and it now shelters nearly 35,000 refugees. Oxfam is providing the camp with clean water and pit latrines, and organising hygiene campaigns and waste management to reduce the risk of disease spreading.

It’s a harsh environment – a dry landscape with limited water and rocky soil that makes it difficult and expensive to dig latrines. Nevertheless, the ongoing conflict in parts of Somalia means people continue to arrive. About 2,000 people a month come to seek refuge in Hilaweyn and the camp population is expected to reach 40,000 by the end of 2013.

To try and find a sustainable solution to the sanitation problems in the camp, Oxfam introduced an innovative new latrine model – the Urine Diversion Dry Toilet (UDDT). It uses no water, produces less waste, generates fertiliser, and is much more suitable for the harsh, arid conditions.

The new UDDT latrine model. Photo: Tigist Gebru/Oxfam
The new UDDT latrine model

Due to the challenges of digging, the UDDT is constructed on the surface of the ground, with an elevated platform consisting of two chambers. The toilet seat is designed in such a way that the urine is diverted to the outward chamber, while faeces fall into the chamber below. Instead of flushing water like a normal latrine, users put a handful of ash into the faecal chamber. This system enables natural biodegradation of the faeces, turning them into manure over a few months. When the chamber is cleared out the manure is used as fertiliser for tree plantations and small vegetable plots. An agreement was reached with one local company, PWA, to use the fertiliser for seedling nurseries.

The UDDT reduces the volume of human waste and leaves a drier, cleaner, less smelly latrine for people to use. Importantly, it uses zero water – making it ideal for a place like Hilaweyn.

The new toilets were piloted on a few select families who volunteered to try it, and community members were trained to raise awareness of the toilet and its benefits. The results were amazing. An initial evaluation found people appreciated the lack of odour and its easy maintenance. Since then 90 UDDTs have been constructed in the past nine months.

Fatima Mohamed. Photo: Tigist Gebru/Oxfam
Fatima Mohamed

Fatima Mohamed, one of the community mobilisers in the camp who teaches people how to use and maintain the latrines, told me, “UDDT is very fascinating for me because of its distinctiveness, simplicity and neatness. People have been amazed by the new technology and more families have expressed interest in using them.

“Initially it was challenging to motivate people on maintaining the latrines, but now they understand the value of it,” she said. “Open defecation has stopped. Even the children are educated how to use it. We have to ensure that children don’t put any materials in the faecal chamber, which can close the urine pipes.”

Ambia Abdikebru, a 48 year old refugee who volunteered to test the latrine, says it has made the environment cleaner. She says that people initially regarded the ash as useless, but now see its value. Now people preserve ash at home.

Oxfam now plans to replace all the pit latrines that are getting full with UDDT, and other humanitarian agencies in the camp have shown interest in using the design. The learning from Hilaweyn will be shared wider with the humanitarian community as a sanitation solution in environments where water is very precious and the soil is very hard.

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Written by Tigist Gebru

Tigist is the Communications and Information Officer for Ethiopia, based in Addis Ababa

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  1. Very fascinated by the success of this project, changing people behaviour and give appropriate solution for sustaining health! 2 thumbs up!!!

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