The dilemma of managing toilets

Le dilemme de la gestion des toilettes

Where there are no sewers to connect to, we need to find other ways to manage waste. Here Katie Whitehouse looks at some of the issues that come with having a functioning toilet.

It is pretty terrible that in 2016 over 2.4 billion people still do not have access to a toilet (even a basic pit latrine). A toilet seems simple enough. But that is the problem with toilets. Once we have finished using a toilet it is often deemed someone else’s issue to deal with the faecal waste produced. No one talks about it because it is not nice to talk about. But where does the waste go?

In developing countries, the waste will go in a bag or the bush if you do not have access to a toilet or latrine. If your toilet connects to a pit then it will need to get emptied somehow. Some people may just cover it up and dig another hole and some will manually empty it (yes, bucket to hand). Potentially (if the owner is lucky enough to have the money and access to road and business that supplies an exhaustor) you could vacuum out the waste from the pit (or septic tank) and take it for treatment or reuse. But that is only if the country is lucky enough to afford the treatment
facilities which is often not the case. Faecal waste is frequently dumped illegally into nearby ditches, rivers or the sea because of lack of access to facilities or the cost of appropriate disposal.

If there are no facilities you might have nearby pay-per-use toilets or biocentres (where the waste is stored on site and converted into fertiliser and bio fuel and hopefully, if there is demand, this is bought and money is generated). Sometimes these are used just by  men because they, as predominant income earners, have the disposable income needed to afford to use them. Sometimes the  toilets are too far away for people to have the time to reach them. Sometimes children are not allowed to use the public facilities because they ‘mess them’. Often they are closed in
the evening so what happens then? What personal safety issues do people have to encounter just to do a number 2?

If you are one of the luckier ones to have your toilet connect to a sewer that transports the waste and is out of sight and out of mind. Tell me, what would you do if your water went off? How would you go to the toilet then? Do you have water stored for flushing? I wonder if the water went off for a few weeks in your area, how quickly we would see people using bags as toilets. I don’t think you would be using your rationed drinking water for toilet flushing, would you?

Katie Whitehouse
Global Advisor Urban WASH & Markets