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Emergency sanitation

In this article we will be discussing personal sanitation facilities for family and individual use in disaster and emergency situations.


At some point in our lives, many of us have been camping and may have “experimented” or tried out various sanitation techniques or toilet systems, such as the earth and chemical toilet. It is these methods and practices that we will discuss in order to ascertain which is the most effective in the terrain where you live, and the type of disaster you encounter.


As we have seen from recent major disasters, the New Orleans La and Mississippi Hurricane, when the crunch come you are on your own. Learn how to deal with these environmental health issues before it is too late.


Not far from where I live in South Wales, UK, is located the Centre for Alternate Technology, (CAT) where for many years this group have been putting into practice and living in the environment they created, the many ideas and methods of alternate living.


This is their mission Statement:

Showing practical solutions to environmental problems to carry us into

  • Inspiring - instilling the desire to change by practical example
  • Informing - feeding the desire to change by providing the most appropriate information
  • Enabling - providing effective and continuing support to put the change into practice.

CAT has a holistic approach to its work, integrating ideas and practice relating to land use, shelter, energy conservation and use, diet and health, waste management and recycling.

Having visited the center on a number of occasions, I find it extremely interesting on how they devised their methods and practices on alternate solutions for every day problems. They have a very interesting toilet facility…quote..

Look out for the compost toilet too. It's a real working example and we welcome contributions from visitors! The innovative, single-chambered design is hygienic and relatively smell-free. It is intended for both rural and urban use. To be on the safe side we don't place the resulting compost close to food crops, but it makes excellent fertiliser for fruit trees

These similar systems are used on the Asian Continent in recent times as described here

Composting Toilets: Treating the Problem, not the Symptoms

The ReSource Institute has built 35 waterless composting toilet facilities in Juigalpa. These aerobic compost converters have the capacity to accommodate over 2,500 uses per day. Wastes are contained in a concrete vessel and reduced in volume by over 90% over a two-year period. The remaining products of this process, a humus rich in plant nutrients and a nitrogen-rich liquid fertilizer, are odor-free and safe to handle.

Naturally, if one has the time, ability and suitable land/location these prepared systems would be ideal, however, in this section we will look at the more immediate facility that one may construct for short-term emergencies.

Rest stop – If you are unprepared, or on long journeys and do not wish to use the “natural” facilities, try these in emergency situations – the ‘Restop’

However, the majority of us will be stuck in one place, so it is important to know how to set up and use your alternate sanitation facility safely.

One of the most easiest and safest systems would be the portable toilet that one may take on camping trips. Easily transported, quickly set up and easy to clean.

Examples – ‘Packin Potty’

If you have never been camping or have not camped for some time, take a look at this useful informative site

In particular (‘primitive’ toilets)

Build your own sawdust toilet

Online book The Humanure Handbook

A Guide to Composting Human Manure

Joseph Jenkins

Deserts and sandy locations; – ‘instant method’.- the ‘cat hole’.

The dry desert climate preserves human waste before decomposition, so ensure you are well away from the camp and areas where food may be stored or handled. In addition at least a few hundred feet away from water sources

Dig a hole in the sand approximately 18 inches deep and 6 inches in circumference, and merely sit over the hole in order to defecate.

Ensure after you have finished to clean up and bury all refuse under at least a foot or so of sand.

Remember, when camping or ‘bush-crafting’ always clean up after you. Bury any unwanted natural waste in order for it to decompose naturally, and if you have burnt any rubbish or made a fire for cooking etc, ensure the fire is well and truly out, and cover with damp sand or soil. The last thing we want to see, especially in the dry hot weather, is a forest fire.

For more information on the above, link to ‘camp fires’

‘Think before you burn’

Enjoy the outdoors and leave it as you would like to find it!


A guide on general community sanitation

Environmental sanitation guideline standards

  • A latrine should be provided for every 20 people or ideally 1 per family sited not farther than 50m from the users' accommodations and not nearer than 6 m.
  • Provide at least 1 100 litre refuse bin for each 50 people.
  • Provide at least 1 wheelbarrow per 500 people.
  • Provide one tip-truck (1-2 ton capacity) per 5,000 people.
  • Provide 1 communal refuse pit (2m x 5m x 2m) per 500 people.
  • Provide water taps at a rate of 1 per 200 people sited not farther than 100 m from user accommodations.
  • Especially where sedimentation tanks are needed, site storage capacity should equal at least one day's supply of water

General information can be found here;

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