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Will ECOSAN toilets solve Africa’s Sanitation Crisis?

By Babatope Babalobi


The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines sanitation as a group of methods to collect human excreta and urine as well as community wastewaters in a hygienic way, where human health and community health is not altered.

Of the 2.6 billion people or 39 per cent of the world’s population live without access to improved sanitation, the vast majority live in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

In sub-Saharan Africa, 45 per cent of the population use either shared or unimproved facilities, and an estimated 25 per cent practise open defecation.

Only four countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal target on sanitation-the four sub-Saharan countries are Rwanda, South, Africa, Angola and Uganda.

There are several methods of ensuring safe sanitation either at domestic or community levels, but generally, sanitation methods are generally aimed at decreasing the spread of diseases through provision of adequate waste water, excreta and other waste treatment, proper handling of water and food and by restricting the occurrence of causes of diseases.

An improved sanitation facility is one that hygienically separates human excreta from human contact, and is defined by World Health Organization/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation to include Flush toilet, Connection to a piped sewer system, Connection to a septic system, Flush / pour-flush to a pit pit latrine, Ventilated improved pit (VIP) latrine, and Composting toilet.

Ecological Sanitation (ECOSAN) is one of the new modern methods of sanitation, and it is based on the following principles:

It aims to decrease contamination of the environment caused by human excretion and prevention of disease deriving from excreta.    Human urine and faeces are considered as a resource, not as a waste.

It promotes the recovery of nutrients from excreta and utilization of the end product as fertilizer and soil enrichment.

It promotes in situ (on site) or close by, treatment of the excreta.

It encourages utilization of water in the transportation of excreta

  It promotes the use of decentralised waste treatment methods and services.

The highpoint of ECOSAN technique is that it is not water based. Whereas, the shortage of water to flush human excreta often causes sanitation problems, ecological sanitation with dry toilet technology does not merely decrease health problems caused by excreta but also digs into the fundamentals of the problem as the contamination of water resources decreases and water is saved for other purposes such as food preparing and hygiene.

Urine Diversion Dry Toilets (UDDT) is the main type of ECOSAN toilets and the common feature is that latrine waste and sometimes organic food is composited and the end product can be used as fertilizer and soil enrichment material. Urine Diversion Dry Toilets (UDDT) are usually built on top of the ground and therefore can be utilised in regions to where ground waters are closed to surface water.  Dry toilets could also useful when the ground is hard or in other ways difficult to dig.

The Global Dry Toilet Association of Finland  is one of the leading groups promoting the importance and raising awareness on ecological sanitation. The body organises the international Dry Toilet conference every three years, since 2003 bringing together experts from all over the world to discuss researches and field experiences in using ECOSAN techniques. The 4th Dry Toilet Conference was held in Tampere, Finland; and previous conferences had been held at the same location in 2003, 2006, and 2009.

The Book of Abstracts of the 2012 Dry Toilet Conference, recently published, contains several studies on successes, challenges, and failures on the application and usage of Dry Toilets in various parts of the world.

For instance, a study conducted by the ‘Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Built Environment Unit South Africa’, shows that the introduction of Dry Toilets in the Hull street Medium Density Mixed Housing (MDMH) Project in Kumberley South Africa in 2010 was a failure.

The study conducted by Gertrade Matsebe and Dr Amipa Osman revealed a high level of dissatisfaction of the users of UDD toilets mainly due to poor design that out weighted the benefits. Most of the users reported that the Urine Diversion Dry Toilets (UDDT)  were unhygienic, unhealthy, had an uncomfortable sitting position, released unpleasant odours, and had high operation and maintenance costs. Furthermore, the UDD technology lacked institutional support from politicians and officials at the local municipality, who eventually decided to convert it into water borne system. This dissatisfaction has led to the rejection of UDDT technology.

In Malawi where the centre for Centre Community Organisation and Development (CCEODE), Non Governmental Organisation has constructed more than 200 Dry Toilets for the Malawi Homeless Peoples Federation (MHPH), there has been mixed results.

Another study on the experience of Ecology Sanitation in Malawi conducted by Tabbie Kayanage of the CCODE shows that: ‘The main negative results is the cultural orientation that handling human waste is a taboo, but the majority of the users are satisfied with the simplicity of the dry toilet as it has a urinal for men, a bathroom attached to it, and it is convenient as its constructed near the house compared to the pit latrine which is constructed far to avoid odour. In addition, it is convenient for children as then don’t have fear of falling in the pit latrines’

In Ethiopia, Ecological Sanitation Ethiopia (in 2006) introduced UDDT to Arba Minch, a town with a population of 110, 113. Arba Minch’s topography is characterised by loose soil, sloppy ground, flooding during rainy season and in some places rocky ground. Findings of a study on the ‘Experiences of urine Diverting Dry Toilets (UDDT)’ in Arba Minch, Ethiopia shows that the low demand for the co-compost produced from UDDT products from the fifty six constructed toilets, is the main challenge for the slow acceptance and sustainability of the Sanitation technique.

The study conducted by Kinfe Ayamo and Beshah Behailis of the Arba Munich University Ethiopia shows that incomes streams from the sale of the co-compost is inadequate which weakens the market chain and discourages construction of new UDDT in the town.

In spite of these in these challenges of ECOSAN toilets, Professor Sridhar K.C Mynedalli of the Niger Delta University Nigeria believes there is a room for the adoption and usage of ECOSAN toilets in an coastal communities where inadequate collection and disposal of faecal sludge has become a major source of ground and surface water pollution with significant environmental, public health, social and economic impacts.

According to him, ECOSAN toilets is suitable for areas characterised by poor sanitary practices, low level of technology, adoption weary rainfall with floods, high water table, and the sea level above the region’s landscape.

Sridkar Mynepali in the study co-authored with Elizabeth Oloruntoba, Bolanle Wahab, and Glory Richard recommended the promotion of dry or composting toilets together with the option of converting faecal sludge into biogas and compost in  coastal cities around the world.



  1. Dry Toilet conferences, 2012 Book of Abstracts.
  2. Urine Diverting Toilets in climates with cold winters women in Europe for a common future.
  3. A guide to Sanitation and Hygiene in developing countries. Produced by the global Dry Toilet Association of Finland





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