Proper disposal of human excreta creates the first barrier to excreta-related diseases, helping to reduce disease transmission through direct and indirect routes. Excreta disposal is therefore a first priority, and in most emergency situations should be addressed with as much speed and effort as water supply. Appropriate facilities for defecation are one of a number of emergency interventions essential for people’s dignity, safety, health and well-being.
Excreta disposal standard 1: access to, and numbers of toilets
People have sufficient numbers of toilets, sufficiently close to their dwellings to allow them rapid, safe and acceptable access at all times of the day and night.
• Maximum of 20 people per toilet.
• Use of toilets is arranged by household(s) and/or segregated by sex.
• Toilets are no more than 50 metres from dwellings, or no more than one minute’s walk.
• Separate toilets for women and men are available in public places (markets, distribution centres, health centres etc).
Excreta disposal standard 2: design and construction
People have access to toilets which are designed, constructed and maintained in such a way as to be comfortable, hygienic and safe to use.
• Technically sound design and construction specifications, approved by the intended users, are used for all forms of household and public toilets.
• Cleaning and maintenance routines for public toilets are in place and function correctly.
• Toilets are designed, built and located to have the following features:
- They are easy to keep clean enough to invite use and not to present a health hazard.
- They are accessible and easy to use by all sections of the population including children, old people, pregnant women and physically and mentally disabled people.
- They are lit at night if necessary for security or convenience.
- Hand washing facilities are close by.
- They minimise fly and mosquito breeding.
- They allow for the disposal of women’s sanitary protection, or provide women with the necessary privacy for washing and drying sanitary protection cloths.
- They provide a degree of privacy in line with the norms of the users.
• Latrines and soakaways in most soils are at least 30 metres from any groundwater source and the bottom of any latrine is at least 1.5 metres above the water table. Drainage or spillage from defecation systems does not run towards any surface water source or shallow groundwater source.
• People are provided with tools and materials for constructing, maintaining and cleaning their own toilets if appropriate.
1. Acceptable facilities: successful excreta disposal programmes are based on an understanding of peoples’ varied needs, and on the participation of the users in the use of facilities they may not be accustomed to and which they may not find easy or attractive to use. Design, construction and location of toilets must take account of the preferences of the intended users, and women and other members of the population should be consulted.
2. Children’s faeces: particular attention should be given to children’s faeces, which are commonly more dangerous than those of adults. Parents or caregivers need to be involved, and facilities should be designed and installed with children in mind. It may be necessary to provide parents or caregivers with information about safe disposal of infant faeces and nappy (diaper) laundering practices.
3. Anal cleansing: water should be provided for people who use it. For other people it may be necessary to provide some sort of paper or other material for anal cleansing. Users should be consulted on the most appropriate materials.
4. Hand washing: users should have the means to wash their hands after defecation, with soap or an alternative, and should be encouraged to do so if necessary. This provides an important barrier to the spread of disease.
5. Menstruation: women and girls of reproductive age should have access to suitable materials for the absorption and disposal of menstrual blood. If these materials are to be provided by the agency, women should be consulted on what is appropriate. Where cloths are washed, dried and re-used, women should have access to a private place to do this in a hygienic way.
6. Hygienic toilets: if toilets are not kept clean they may be a focus for disease transmission and people will prefer not to use them. Cleaning and maintenance of all types of toilet should be addressed. Toilets are more likely to be kept clean if users have a sense of ownership. This is encouraged by having them close to where people sleep, avoiding large blocks and involving users, where possible, in decisions about their design and construction.
7. Shared facilities: it is not always possible to provide one toilet per 20 people or per family immediately. In the short term, shared facilities are usually needed. Access to these shared facilities can be ensured by working with the intended users to decide who will have access to the toilet and how the sharing and responsibility for cleaning will be organised. It may be that men and women use different toilets, or that several families all use the same toilet. As the numbers of toilets are increased the sharing arrangements will change. In some situations it may be necessary to provide, clean and maintain public toilets for some or all of the population. It is important both that sufficient numbers of toilets are available and that every person can identify and gain access to a toilet when necessary.
8. Distance of defecation systems from water sources: the distances given above may be increased for fissured rocks and limestone, or decreased for fine soils. Groundwater pollution may not be a concern if the groundwater is not consumed.
9. Security: especially in crowded settlements, it is vital to consider the security of those using sanitation facilities, in particular women and girls. Latrines that are far from inhabited areas, or which are poorly lit, expose women and girls to additional risk of attack.