Blogs tagged as sanitation

  • Water – don’t take it for granted

    April 10th, 2014

    I’ve never been one to drink much water, I don’t really like it, tea’s my poison and failing that a nice diet coke goes down well. During my week doing live below the line however, my relationship with water really changed. It became my crutch. It became my best friend –  the one thing that I could have that kept me feeling full and sweetened the horrible taste that was permanently hanging around my mouth from the poor diet I was enduring.

    child drinking safe clean water in Kenya

    Communities in Turkana, Kenya, get access to clean, safe water for the first time!

    About half way through the week I went to the tap to fill my bottle up, on the way through the office, my eye was drawn to a photo on the wall of a woman collecting water from a dirty pool.

    As I stood at the tap letting it run until it was cold enough, I started to think. It’s all very well living on £1 a day, it was really making me empathise with the tedious lack of choice and eating to survive rather than eating for pleasure, but the very people I was doing it for had another problem…they couldn’t just go to a tap and keep hunger at bay with a glass of clean water.

    It might shock you to hear that 758 million people are without clean safe water. We live in 2014 and yet millions of people have no access to something as simple as clean water. It really made me think. Without water I would have been more hungry, felt weaker and without doubt would have felt worse. It almost felt like cheating!

    The good news is that my efforts living on £1 a day have helped solve just a teeny weeny bit of the problem. Last year Practical Action helped 68,000 improve their access to drinking water and sanitation. The money that I raised might be a drop in the ocean (pardon the pun!) but every little helps and until all 758 million people have access to clean water, living on £1 a day suddenly feels like a walk in the park!  

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  • Let’s Talk Toilets

    Neil Philip Noble
    February 20th, 2014

    As part of the University of Edinburgh’s International Development Week I was asked to take part in a Development Academy Loo Event which aimed to bring together students from architecture, engineering, and international development in a multi-disciplinary  workshop where they were challenged to come up with a sanitation solution to three different scenarios; a rural setting in arid farmland, an urban setting with densely crowded housing and a location where houses were built up on stilts above water.

    The Practical Action technical brief Types of Toilet and Their Suitability that outlines some of the options available in low-cost toilet design was taken as a starting point and I highlighted a few issues that related to these designs and how they are implemented in practice, some of which is repeated here.

    Stepped Improvement






    The basic approach of Practical Action is to take people from a situation where we there is no sanitation to one where there is a stepped improvement on what has gone before. This goes hand in hand with improvements in terms of behaviour and in terms of facilities for washing as well as the catering for the waste management issues that part of improved toilet facilities.

    Poor Quality Toilets

    Although is some locations toilets exist they are in such a poor condition that they do not provide any health benefit. The examples shown below are all from Kenya. And you can see that the waste from the toilet flows into an open channel. This means that there are no benefit.


    This is a poorly constructed corrugated toilet block with an open sewage channel in Kibara, an informal settlement (slum) in Nairobi, Kenya. It occupies about a square mile and is home to something like 700,000 people. Drainage consists of “natural” drainage channels formed in the paths and roads, which render the roads impassable during the rainy season; sanitation facilities are insufficient and waste disposal services do not exist. Sanitation is a huge problem.

    Rural Toilets The situation for people in rural areas can be quite different to those in more urban areas and the issues faced when it comes to sanitation are particular to the location. The population will be low and dispersed over a greater area.  People can be in very remote locations a long way from any urban centre, possibly in a mountainous area   which makes transportation of materials and goods difficult.

    Remote-ToiletThis photograph of a compost toilet in Peru highlights the remoteness of some homes. This project was managed by Practical Action Latin America (Soluciones Prácticas).

    Types of Toilets

    In rural areas basic toilets, variations on pit latrines, are common. Beyond open defecation, possibly the simplest approach, is the Arbour Loo (see Toilets That Make Compost by Peter Morgan or download at This is a shallow hole which is filled relatively quickly, once it is full the toilet superstructure (the part above ground) is move to a newly dug hole. The old hole with its composting waste is used to cultivate a tree, hence the name of arbour loo.

    Conventional pit latrines (See are common and are generally dug a little bit deeper. Ventilation Improved Pit Latrines have additional features which mean that flies are trapped within the toilet vent thus reducing the spread of disease.


    This school in Kenya (left)  has installed ventilation improved toilets which have additional benefits in improved hygiene as flies become tripped within the toilet and die.

    Compost-toilet-in-NepalThis compost toilet (right) is another of Practical Action’s projects. It is built in rural Nepal. Practical Acton has focused on constructing the chambers that are underground while the superstructure is built by the farmer from local materials.


    Urban Toilets

    Urban-mapUrban sanitation where there is no sewage systems such as the Kaptembwa and Rhonda estates in Nekuru, Kenya shown below have very densely packed housing which very few toilets. The main issue where the toilets do exist, most probably pit latrines, is that the waste has to be removed. In some places specialist equipment  might be used but too often it a full pit latrine has to emptied by hand


    Types of Toilets

    Bio-sanitationThere are a range of ways in which this is approached. The PeePoo is an approach where you use a single use bag. This then can be passed to a collection point. More conventional in some respects is a regular collection of waste from the home every day or every two or three days, the collection is made by workers who take the waste to a disposal centre. One example of this is the Clean Team Ghana. These approaches get round the problem of waste building up on site which can be an advantage in confined spaces. More common is intermittent emptying such as pit latrines but these need to be emptied in, sometimes this is done by hand when there is no alternative but there are designs for small scale machines such as a vacutug that are capable of getting into small spaces to extract the waste  (see Pit Emptying Systems). Pour flush toilets such as Aqua-privy and sceptic tanks also have their own advantages.

    More advanced technologies such as bio-sanitation (see Bio-latrines ) can be used in certain locations if there is sufficient funds available. Here an underground biogas chamber is being constructed that will be part of the sanitation system. Then participants were set to design their best solution to a given sanitation problem. There was the dry rural setting, an urban setting and a high water setting. With Practical Action’s urban Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) work households and landlords are encourages to provide better sanitation through an approach of establishing a set of standard six toilet designs which ensures that people know what they are getting, the characteristics are well known and the costs can be accounted for by users and banks thus making is much easier to get a loan for installing a toilet. There are many other considerations that have not been covered here but should be taken into account such as high water tables, rocky conditions and other geological aspects. And then there are the considerations of design for disability which seems to be omitted in many projects

    Making Toilets

    Urinals-in-KenyaAs cost has to be kept to a minimum, then you need to determine what can be achieved with the available money.This example of a simple urinal is from a pilot ecosan facility in London (a suburb in Nakuru) through the ROSA (Resource Oriented Sanitation Options for Peri-urban Africa). While Practical Action has worked in partnership with ROSA (local consortium) Practical Action did not have any direct input in this facility. ROSA is managed through WASTE Netherlands and others. Transportation issues will also play a part.

     Here we see a few items being transported by rickshaw in Bangladesh.







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  • What will make headlines in 2014?

    Simon Trace
    February 6th, 2014

    Last month Thomson Reuters Foundation asked its correspondents what stories they thought would make headlines in 2014.

    In response I asked directors at Practical Action to draw up 10 pressing issues they thought would make headlines in 2014. Here is their list. I’d welcome any feedback on the points or any issues that you think should have been included.


    1. Climate change and economic growth will collide

    Our changing climate will bring yet more extreme weather events. The trend started by record cold temperatures in the USA and severe flooding in the UK will continue unabated with more countries affected by climate related disasters like Typhoon Haiyan. By contrast world leaders will continue to ignore the crisis and instead push for universal and sustained economic growth.  In 2014 this divergence will become more pronounced with increasing voices starting to question what price we are willing to pay to protect the climate.

    1. ‘Technology justice’ will come of age

    ‘Appropriate new technology’ will help lift many more people out of poverty. Until recently in rich countries technology has been something to consume, not to discuss. 2014 will see the role of technology highlighted in global meetings culminating in the United Nations climate change talks in Peru in December. This will help start an important debate about whether we can deliver ‘technology justice’ for the poor.

    1. 22397Projects not meeting the Millennium Development Goals will struggle to get funding

    With the deadline for the MDGs now just over a year away we will see resources directed towards getting as close to the targets as possible. Large scale projects delivering large numbers of beneficiaries will be favoured. Small scale work – even vital work – which does not meet the targets will find it increasingly hard to attract funding.

    1. Political instability, insecurity and conflicts will continue in Bangladesh and other developing countries

    Developing countries will make headlines around the world but again for the wrong reasons. In Bangladesh nearly 60%  of the days between October and December 2013 were marked by political strikes, closures, violence and insecurity. These trends will continue in 2014 with many developing countries suffering heavy economic losses and the poorest being the most hard hit.

    1. The poor in middle income countries will be forgottenclean water

    As more nations become middle income countries, donors will understandably withdraw their financial support and instead focus on the poorest.  But there are many poor people who live in middle income countries.  In 2014 if more international development organisations withdraw, there will be generations of people who will not escape poverty.  Southern national governments will try to step in but how effectively?

    1. Deaths associated with uncollected urban waste in Africa will rise

    In Southern Africa, over 22 million people have no access to a clean water supply and sanitation facilities, especially in urban areas. In urban slums between 30-60 per cent of all the solid waste goes uncollected, a figure which will increase in 2014. As a result many more people will die of associated diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera and dysentery.

    1. Mobile technology will help transform the lives of the poor

    Mobile phone technology will continue to rapidly change the face of communication in poor countries. By the end of 2014 out of the seven billion people in the world, approximately six billion will have a mobile phone and most will be in developing countries. In response companies, governments  and NGOs will use phones to do everything from transferring money to letting people know of an impending disaster using a text alert.


    1. Renewable energy will struggle to attract the investment it needs

    Progress in exploiting shale oil, shale gas and other unconventional fossil fuel sources will erode any incentives the big oil companies have to work on renewables as future alternative revenue streams. At the same time this will tempt governments to focus on short term energy security issues rather than long term environmental sustainability issues such as climate change. In this atmosphere further progress in climate talks or the management of carbon will be very difficult.

    1. The inter-dependency between food, water and energy will become more pronounced

    The need to think about food, water and energy in a holistic manner will  become ever more apparent as trade-offs between food and energy crops, agricultural inputs and food prices and the scarcity of water in many parts of the world increase. In developing countries this will result in continuing conflict over resources and globally more environmental refugees seeking a better life.


    1. More poor people will get energy

    The recent focus on energy access issues at an international level will reduce the numbers of people lacking electricity or still cooking over open fires. However, the current over reliance of markets and private sector finance to solve the problem will leave big holes in cover for the rural poor, where returns on investment for much of the needed infrastructure will not be high enough to attract private investment.

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  • Innocent abroad

    Liz Frost
    January 20th, 2014

    I love going to meetings at the innocent drinks’ offices.  Apart the from the funky surroundings (hanging basket chairs, fake grass, table tennis tables in the kitchen) where else do you get given a nice little brown bag at the end of a meeting and told to help yourself to the drinks cabinet.  The temptation is great – all those lovely smoothies, peaches and apricots, mango and passion fruit, and my personal favourite – pineapples, bananas and coconut.

    But I’m not writing this to plug the deliciousness of  innocent’s drinks or the virtues of  innocent’s office, many though they are (and by the way, as it says on the side of their drinks’ cartons, anyone can visit their offices if they make an appointment), but to also describe the amazing support they give to organisations like Practical Action.

    innocent’s project support in Peru

    So this is about innocent abroad – actually innocent foundation abroad – which has supported Practical Action’s work in Peru since 2007 when they funded our project providing water, sanitation and energy to communities in the high Andes, 5,000m above sea level.   These are families living, cooking and sleeping in simple mud walled homes, thatched with straw.  Being so few they are largely forgotten or ignored by local government when it comes to providing basic services.  Water was collected from streams, often contaminated by animal waste and human faeces, (open defecation was the norm) and their only power sources were using kerosene or burning dry dung, their remoteness making it unlikely that the national grid will ever reach them.  With innocent foundation’s support this has all changed.

    Water, sanitation and energy

    Practical Action, together with the communities, has built eco-san toilets, and as importantly, communities are now aware of the dangers to their health that open defecation brings.  Piped water is available, filtered at household level to reduce the risk of diarrhoea.

       Seňor Santiago's filtered water tap

    Seňor Santiago’s filtered water tap

    And they have power, harnessing the renewable energies of the sun with small solar panels provided by Practical Action.  This simple technology is enabling these alpaca farmers to increase their alpaca wool production with small electric spinning machines, bringing them increased incomes, enabling them to better support their children’s education and health needs.

    Who would have thought that drinking an innocent strawberry and banana smoothie could make such a difference?



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  • 5 things to make life better

    Amanda Ross
    January 16th, 2014

    aWhat would your life be like without lighting or power? And can you imagine living without a toilet?  This was the reality for Ravalina and her family, who live in the Canchis region of Peru, way up in the Andes, making a living from selling the wool spun from her herd of alpacas.

    Being without these basic services, which most of us would regard as essentials, made life pretty tough.  It affected all aspects of her life – work, health and education. 

    Supported by innocent foundation

    The innocent foundation supported this Practical Action project financially and they have made a great video about our work – take a look at the Chain of Good.

    Here are the five things that have made a huge difference to Ravalina’s life.  I certainly couldn’t imagine living without any of them, but this my order of priority for me.  Do you agree?





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  • The shittiest job in the world?

    Gemma Hume
    November 19th, 2013

    If you think your job is bad, just read this interview that landed on my desk today from our team in Kenya. It is of a man who empties toilets for a living.

    More than 2.5 billion people live without sanitation. Open sewers overflowing with rubbish and human waste run through the centre of urban slums.

    Practical Action is working in a slum in Nakuru. There are toilets there – just not as we know them. They are basically just pits which are used by 240 people every day. They fill up quickly!

    Imagine having a toilet that you can’t flush and you just keep going and going?! That’s the smell. It’s hard to bear.

    There’s only one way these toilets can get emptied

    Nakuru Kenya urban slum sanitation toilet

    “We have to pull out human waste from pit latrines…with our bare hands.” Anthony, waste cleaner, Nakuru, Kenya

    People like Anthony have to empty the toilets – many of them with their bare hands. He has suffered abuse and discrimination as a result of doing the job. People in his community shun him and won’t go anywhere near him.

    This is his story:

    “We work on the pit latrines, where we use exhausters (pipes through which waste material is emitted) to pull out the human waste. The exhauster sucks out the lighter, biodegradable material. However, there are pieces of cloth, diapers and sanitary pads that cannot be removed using the exhaust pipe. They block the pipes and really slow us down. It forces us to go down into the latrine and pull out the human waste with our bare hands.

    “Initially we always did this work with our bare hands and feet. The maggots and filth scared us. We were resented by the very people who created the mess but because the job was so filthy, nobody wanted to associate with us, so we worked at night like thieves.

    “The money is not enough to take care of school fees, household needs, rent and all our other needs.”

    Practical Action is working in Nakuru to improve the quality of life for slum communities of 190,000 people, by providing access to safe, hygenic toilets and hand washing facilities. And we’re working with Anthony and other pit emptiers to improve their health, enable them to provide an essential service to their community and raise their status.

    This World Toilet Day I’m counting my blessings that I have such a fantastic job and if you are too please consider helping people like Anthony and his community to get access to better sanitation, improve their health and restore their dignity.

    Please take action and help people access sanitation through a new appeal Practical Action have launched called ‘Safer Cities’. It is being backed by the UK government who will match fund donations pound for pound, helping us to do more vital work to improve the lives of poor and vulnerable people living in slum communities.  This means that if you can give us £20 the Government will also give us £20, making your donation go even further!

    International Development Secretary Justine Greening said: By matching pound for pound all public donations to this appeal, we will help Practical Action provide safe drinking water and basic sanitation to over four thousand people living in slums in Bangladesh and Nepal. As well as day-to-day health benefits, this will reduce the spread of potentially deadly water-borne diseases that follow regular seasonal flooding. Better hygiene isn’t just vital to save lives, it means people can focus on earning money and taking care of their families.”
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  • Water is life, only if it’s safe!

    The recent (2011) census in Nepal revealed that 82.78% of people have access to improved drinking water supply. The figure is satisfying as it indicates crossing the MDG target and approaching the national target of universal coverage. However, there is a big question mark in the quality aspects. Water is a good solvent; it’s often called a universal solvent as many substances are easily dissolved in. Therefore, there is always risk of water contamination. It’s thought that most people are not aware about impurities in water and just judge water with their senses like sight or smell.

    Water chocking around the tube-well

    Water chocking around the tube-well

    A survey conducted by Practical Action in six urban poor communities of mid-western Nepal (Bardiya) in 2009 showed that drinking water is contaminated  chemically (ammonia, phosphate, iron and arsenic) and biologically (presence of e-coli). Nevertheless, 89% of respondents in the survey were happy with the quality of drinking water. It was also found that 98% of people didn’t practice any water purifying methods before consumption.

    Many people in the developing world – 35% of people in Nepal (census 2011) – rely on tube wells or hand pumps for drinking water. Mostly tube wells extract water from the first aquifer or ground water up to 20 feet. It’s seen that ground water sources in such cases are easily contaminated because of the lack of appropriate management. In many cases in Bardiya, a small pond of stagnant water forms near tube wells. In such cases how can quality water be expected? Further, it is found that water handling and storage is also an issue.

    No doubt, water is life, but we need to consider both quantity and quality. Some simple steps like education on water quality, low cost household water treatment options, platform improvement for tube wells, grey water management and proper water handling can make a big difference in water quality that ultimately leads to a healthier life.

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  • Soon, no more flying toilets

    I gazed at the toddlers giggling playfully as their mothers bathed them, one squatted without a thought to relieve herself. I marveled at their innocence, and how happiness is self-generated from within despite our circumstances. Their water had been warmed under the midday sun. The narrow corridor on which they stood was covered with polythene bags of all shapes and colors. One could only hope that the polythene bags were not flying toilets in their previous lives.

    The residents of the plot often suffered from water borne disease that reduced on their productivity. The residents of this plot in the Kaptembwo low income settlement in Nakuru have had to contend with the filth that surrounds them, simply because they are not able to pay more than the Kshs1,800/= rent required of them here. In this particular plot, the 15 household members share two toilets, there is no bathroom. However, last month, the rains were rather heavy and one of the toilets just collapsed. The plot owner was now dragging his feet about putting up another one because the costs are exorbitant and the soils in the area are unstable.

    A Comic Relief funded partnership between Practical Action and Umande Trust is implementing a Community Led Total Sanitation Project with modifications to suit the urban setting. The project aims to eliminate Open Defecation and change the residents’ attitudes towards improved hygiene practices. Through this project, the landlord is beginning to see changes within his plot. The residents have attended a couple of hygiene training and are now more eager to maintain cleanliness. He looks forward to the credit facilities that have been organized through this project to construct a modern ablution block complete with two bathrooms!

    By Aileen Ogolla

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  • Shit Matters at Christmas

    Margaret Gardner
    December 12th, 2012

    What is the weirdest Christmas present you could give any one? For me the Shit Box, cardboard crapper must be a contender.  I’m amazed that people seem to be buying it. My daughter gave me a link to a ‘great’ website for Christmas presents and its 33 on their top 100 gifts!

    Why would you do it? Why spend £16.99 plus P&P on a cardboard box with a hole in it? AND then use it to go to the loo!

    Okay so I’m not their target audience.

    But at the risk of sounding like someone’s self-righteous aunt, children are dying from the lack of a loo. Diarrhoea kills 1.5 million children each year, on top of this it’s a leading cause of malnutrition in children under 5. Shit is serious!

    So if you have £20 to buy a ‘weird’ prezzie do something more useful – join up with a friend and give money for a decent loo to your favourite charity (overseas of course).

    You still have the kudos of buying something weird without the problem of recycling (or contamination – having used a very clean long drop loo I know how hard ……I think any more might just be too much information – but you get my point)

    If you are struggling for loo inspired prezzies have a look here.

    Give a present that really can make a difference – not one that shows you are a plonker

    Whatever you do (and buy)  this Christmas have a happy and very, very peaceful one

    Auntie Margaret

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  • It’s all in the name……or is it?

    Liz Frost
    November 14th, 2012

    Some years ago Practical Action was called Intermediate Development Technology Group – am I pleased we changed it! Moving from ITDG wasn’t a universally popular decision but calling ourselves Practical Action better describes what we do.

    Many of our projects also have titles which describe perfectly to an organisation, say like the European Commission, what the project is about, but do they tell you what a difference the work will make to someone’s life?  Take, ‘Community Led Approaches Complementing Sustainable Service Delivery for WASH Action in Zimbabwe’, for example. Nothing wrong with the title, it describes exactly what the project is about, but does it tell you what the project will achieve? As a fundraiser, I want to give Trustees/Administrators of Trusts and Foundations, an immediate and human sense of what a difference the project will make to people’s lives. If you don’t engage very busy people, who receive hundreds of proposals a year, in the first few words, how can you expect them to read on to learn more about what an exciting project it is that you’re pitching to them. So what did we call ‘Community Led Approaches Complementing Sustainable Service Delivery for WASH Action in Zimbabwe’ – while pondering an alternative title, a staff member who happened to be passing, suggested ‘Now Wash Your Hands….’ – genius! Familiar, short and says exactly what one of the aims of the project is. Because that’s what the project hopes to achieve – providing clean water and good quality sanitation for communities in rural Zimbabwe, but as importantly, the water supply to wash their hands after using the toilet, and the knowledge that such an action significantly reduces diseases previously spread by poor hygiene habits.

    Any suggestions for an alternative title for ‘Improving the Capacity of Sub National Risk Management Systems and Building the Resilience of Communities Vulnerable to Disaster in Peru’?

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