Flying Toilets: What they are, and how to get rid of them!


February 23rd, 2011

In many of the informal settlements (or slums) in Kenya, there are simply not enough toilets. Only a few houses have a private latrine, and for others there is a public toilet.  But at night, when it’s dark and there is no street lighting, public toilets are not a viable option for women, or small children.  One option many people use is to wee or a poo into a plastic bag, and then….yes you’ve guessed it… throw the bag over the wall into the street.  Hence the name ‘flying toilet’!

Needless to say this is not exactly a healthy way to dispose of human waste, never mind issues of dignity. It only needs a small percentage of people using a ‘flying toilet’, to make the streets a real public health risk for everyone, and it’s a problem that affects millions and millions of people living in informal settlements all over the world.

So we need a solution which works for everyone, all of the time.  100% coverage.

As Practical Action, we’ve been working on various approaches to urban sanitation for some years, and we’ve learnt a lot, and made improvements to sanitation coverage, but we haven’t yet reached got to that magic 100% coverage.  It’s clear that there is no one answer.  Going to the toilet is a pretty personal thing, and you can’t simply tell people where they must go to the loo.  Then there’s a bunch of financial, technical and even legal challenges as well.  Over the last three months our team in Kenya has been reviewing our urban sanitation work, and consulting with community members, partner organisations, and local government, and we now have a programme of work which we believe will help us get there.  All we need now is the funding.  This does present us with a bit of challenge, as the subject matter – poo – is hardly the most attractive.  Let’s hope we can. I’ll keep you posted.

6 responses to “Flying Toilets: What they are, and how to get rid of them!”

  1. Andrew Carmichael Says:

    For a long time it has seemed that fresh clean drinking water has been in short supply especially in areas of poor sanitation where usually plenty of sunshine is available.
    A simple solution of a still and UV sterilisation can be made from three 2 litre cola bottles using one as an evaporator in full sunshine and another as condenser sitting in a third (cut down) bottle with a damp cloth capillary evaporation cooler. It worked even in UK summer (such as we had!) and I would like to share the idea with as many people as possible.
    Please advise as to whom I should contact.

  2. Dr Mary Munro-Hill Says:

    What has this to do with the question of !”flying toilets”?

  3. Mandy Thody Says:

    surely it has a great deal to do with it – situation is the same in Haiti where I work – sanitation and drinking water issues are one and the same – hence the cholera outbreak here – where we have the same practices in urban areas. I would like to see a diagram of the solar still made from bottles please.

  4. Dr Vic Smith Says:

    Poor sanitation and drinking water issues may sometimes be related but they are certainly not ‘one and the same’. Cholera is a classical water-borne infection related to both poor sanitation and poor water quality but there are diseases that are related to poor sanitation that have nothing to do with drinking water quality.

  5. Victoria Knollys Says:

    When our children were small and we were much poorerthan we are now, we went on camping holidays and had a portable loo which took up very little space and was emptied appropriately once a day. Is it possible to have things like this in the peoples’ shacks?

  6. Paul Smith-Lomas Says:

    I’m really glad that my blog on flying toilets generated so much interest. As some people pointed out, the issue of addressing water borne diseases, requires attention to water and sanitation, along with hygiene practices. And yes, there are lots of technical options which could work. Through our work in Kenya slums we’ve learnt that no single measure is guaranteed to work, but a mix of different approaches used together just might.
    We have put in our bid to Comic Relief, but have yet to hear if we’ve been successful. (These things take time) I’ll write about toilets again. It’s something that people tend to avoid talking about – but now I can see there is an interest, I’ll write more.

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