Moving beyond ‘frogmen’ and ‘vomiting’ pit-latrines

Moving beyond ‘frogmen’ and ‘vomiting’ pit-latrines

Globally, 2.7 billion people have their toilets connected to onsite sanitation facilities. In this article, Laura Bright-Davies discusses the challenges and opportunities for faecal sludge management for low-income, informal settlements in urban Tanzania.

2.7 billion people worldwide have their toilets connected to onsite sanitation facilities (e.g. pit-latrines and septic tanks) that are not linked to any centralised sewerage network or wastewater treatment facility, with that number expected to grow to 5 billion by 2030 – this is more than half the world’s population. And what happens when those pit-latrines and septic tanks are full?

In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania – one of the fastest growing cities in Africa – more than 90% of the almost 5 million residents use onsite sanitation facilities, as centralised sewerage coverage cannot keep up with the rapid urban sprawl. When the pits fill up, common practices for emptying include: (1) calling a conventional wastewater-collection truck to extract the excreta using a vacuum pump; (2) cracking a hole in the side of the pit during heavy rain, to allow rainwater to ‘flush’ out the contents; or (3) engaging an informal pit-emptier, or ‘frogman’ to jump into the latrine (with no protective clothing) and manually empty the pit with a bucket.

In a city where 70-90% of the population live in unplanned areas, road infrastructure is often inadequate and/or streets are too narrow for conventional wastewater-collection trucks to access. This means that many households are left with the latter two options for emptying their pits: ‘flushing’ with rainwater, or calling the local ‘frogman’. These illegal, expensive and unhygienic methods are also known as pit-latrine ‘vomiting’, where human-waste is openly dumped into the environment. It is therefore no surprise that cholera is still a threatening epidemic in Tanzania.

This is a common scenario in many of Africa’s rapidly growing cities, where unplanned growth has resulted in densely populated, inaccessible settlements – making conventional sanitation service provision challenging, and in some places impossible.

In response to the high demand for alternative and affordable faecal sludge solutions, business models surrounding faecal sludge management (FSM) are currently being developed and tested in Dar es Salaam, as part of the UKAID supported “Human Development Innovation Fund” project – implemented by the Bremen Overseas Research and Development Association (BORDA) Tanzania and Ifakara Health Institute (IHI). This initiative considers the market value of each product and service along the FSM service chain, and seeks to empower local entrepreneurs to solve community sanitation challenges in a professional and financially sustainable way. The business models use locally manufactured latrine emptying tools, simple transportation technologies, and decentralised faecal sludge treatment plants (FSTPs) to provide low-cost latrine emptying services. Additionally, research is being undertaken by IHI to assess the marketability of output products (e.g. biogas, biosolids and nutrient-rich water for irrigation) to offset maintenance and operation costs. As profits can be generated by private service providers, competition will evolve and result in lower emptying costs for the urban poor.

To ensure the sustainability of the project, recommendations have also been developed for the associated enabling environment – notably the institutional framework – to guide the relevant stakeholders through their various roles and responsibilities, such as regulation/monitoring, service provision, flow of funds, licensing, operation and maintenance.

This project intends to bridge the gap between existing pilot projects and future city-wide scaling up of faecal sludge and decentralised wastewater management solutions in urban Tanzania. It is likely to be a breakthrough for the local sanitation sector, as well as providing an example for neighbouring countries with similar urban sanitation challenges.

The author

Laura Bright-Davies 

Before becoming ‘immersed’ in the field of urban sanitation, Laura started out as an architect and urban development expert, with two postgraduate Master Degrees in Architecture (MArch) and Urban Management (MSc). From Brisbane to Dar es Salaam – via Berlin, Kathmandu, and Phnom Penh – Laura has refined her focus over the last six years towards the challenges and opportunities surrounding urban environmental sanitation in low- and middle-income countries, particularly decentralised wastewater, faecal sludge and solid-waste management. Her practical experience in sustainable international development encompasses city-wide sanitation planning, urban resilience, liveable cities, community-engagement, capacity development, project management and implementation.

WASH Futures 2018

Laura will be sharing her work on pioneering faecal sludge management for low-income, informal settlements in Tanzania as part of the Thematic Session on collaboration for urban WASH on day one of WASH Futures Conference 2018, Monday 5 March. Complementary to this session, she will also present on the standardisation and mainstreaming of decentralised wastewater treatment solutions for African cities during the Thematic Session on managing human waste in urban settings on day two, Tuesday 6 March.

For more information on #WASHFutures18 please visit:

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