Managing the sanitation challenge for Rohingya refugees

February 15th, 2018

Nearly a million people of Rohingya community are living in the makeshift shelters in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, fleeing persecution in neighbouring Myanmar.

Hasin Jahan, Practical Action’s country director in Bangladesh, recently visited the camp and describes her experience.

It felt like one fine morning half a million Rohingya people just landed on the doorstep! It may be the world’s largest humanitarian crisis ever.

It has been well managed with the government and agencies working together to provided the Rohingya communities with food, non-food items, shelter, water, sanitation, and hygiene.

All the greenery has disappeared from the hills around the camp. And when the monsoon season arrives, there will be the risk of flooding and landslides. But, against all odds, life goes on.

An experience during my last visit still brings tears in my eyes. I met a woman whose husband and son were killed in front of her. When I entered her room at the shelter, I noticed that she had made a mud stove, a mortar and pestle out of rocks, and a small washing area from mud and bricks at the corner of her tiny room. She had also made an overhead shelf that had two cooking pots, her only possessions. The gravity of the situation touched me so much when I understood that she still had that desire to build a home and a family.

Various agencies have constructed toilet facilities and drilled boreholes for drinking water to manage the immediate crisis. But it soon became obvious that the absence of proper management of toilet waste posed severe public health concerns. The toilets filled up quickly and were overflowing and contaminating  the water sources with E. coli.

Because of our expertise in delivering faecal sludge management systems in Bangladesh, Practical Action was approached to help manage the safe disposal of this waste, in order to protect the health of these community, the environment and the quality of the water.

It was not easy to tailor the technology, given the hilly terrain, lack of skilled labour, and space constraints due to a densely packed population. But Practical Action took up the challenge and devised portable faecal sludge management units made of steel with rainproof shed at the camps at Ukhyia.

How does the technology work?

The technology uses a simple upflow filtration system. The faecal sludge is collected mechanically using suction pumps

and discharged through a series of filtration chambers to separate liquids from solids. The liquid passes through a number of filter chambers. The effluent is finally treated by a natural process in a ‘constructed wetland’ through the roots of of Canna indica plants. The solid parts are removed at a certain intervals to bury in pits with sand envelop. After a certain time, it get digested and can be used as compost.

Another important consideration was the health and safety of the sanitation workers who clean and empty the toilets. So training and provision of safety equipment play a key part in this work.

Need for safer energy

There are two other ways Practical Action can help the displaced communities. In view of the danger of cooking in tents and the quantity of waste plastic lying around in the camp, we are planning to install a bio-gas cooking facility using gas extracted from the faecal sludge plants. Another facility planned is a plastic recycling unit to make toys out of waste plastic. This will not only reduce the pollution but also provide toys the children in these communities can play with.

Further reading

One response to “Managing the sanitation challenge for Rohingya refugees”

  1. Christopher Leffler Says:

    Once again Practical Action is THERE, with ‘Appropriate technology’. This is why I have been a supporter for many years now, because of the wealth of appropriate resources to tackle most of the problems which the developing world has thrown up, by now, so that people on the ground have got to know where to go for the know-how.
    i hope to hear that the composted waste is producing food plantations.

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