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Everyone Needs Somewhere to Go: World Toilet Day

Posted on by Madison Walter, MPH, CHES

Charcoal briquettes manufactured from human waste in East Africa
Charcoal briquettes manufactured from human waste in East Africa (Photo courtesy of Eric Mintz, CDC)

We use toilets every day – at home, school, and work – yet 40% of the world’s population does not have this luxury.  Clean and safe toilets are more than just a place to use the restroom.  They are essential for health, human dignity, and improved education.  Sadly, 2.3 billion people lack even a basic sanitation service, which in many ways represents an ongoing public health crisis that puts much of the world’s population at risk for diseases such as cholera, dysentery, hepatitis, and typhoid fever. Almost 1 billion face the indignity every day of defecating outside without privacy. The 2015 Sustainable Development Goals include a target to ensure universal access to adequate and equitable sanitation and use of safely managed sanitation services by 2030, making sanitation a global development priority. To raise awareness of this issue, the United Nations General Assembly designated November 19 as World Toilet Day.

The Center for Global Health’s Emergency Response and Recovery Branch (ERRB), with support from the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases’ Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch (WDPB), joined the United Nations and other development partners to reach the Sustainable Development Goal by evaluating the safety and acceptability of urine-diverting dry toilets (UDDTs).  These types of toilets collect feces (poop) and urine separately for treatment, and because they are installed above ground, they are appropriate for areas where traditional options (e.g., dug pit latrines) are not feasible. This increases the potential for access to clean and safe toilets in difficult environments, such as flood-prone or dry areas.

In 2014, CDC was awarded a grant from Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises (R2HC), an organization working to improve health outcomes by strengthening the evidence for health interventions in humanitarian crises. This grant funds a study of UDDTs in a refugee camp setting to provide guidance on their potential use in humanitarian crises.

Sanivation’s waste processing system in action – a full-scale operational and portable manufacturing plant for treating feces with solar thermal energy and manufacturing charcoal briquettes from them.
Sanivation’s waste processing system in action – a full-scale operational and portable manufacturing plant for treating feces with solar thermal energy and manufacturing charcoal briquettes from them. (Photo courtesy of Eric Mintz, CDC)

WDPB is also involved in efforts to improve sanitation by partnering with a start-up company, Sanivation, to provide in-home container-based urine-diverting toilets to households and to collect and turn the feces into fuel.  In 2013, Sanivation received a CDC Innovation Fund Award to begin this waste-to-fuel conversion project in Kenya.  Sanivation uses concentrated solar heat to treat the waste and make it safe; then the mix the treated waste with charcoal dust from agricultural waste and transform it into briquettes that widely used for cooking.  This method of waste treatment has worked in refugee camp settings and provides a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way to reuse human waste. The project has been so successful, that in 2017, Sanivation received a special CDC Innovation Fund Award to scale-up their waste collection and treatment activities beyond its household subscribers. This new award will enable Sanivation to collect and treat waste from overflowing latrines, leaking septic tanks and other unsafely managed sanitation systems throughout the community, and to expand from one ton of waste collected and treated per month to over four tons. Ultimately, Sanivation plans to expand to other regions of East Africa with the goal of serving over 1 million people by 2020.

Through these efforts, CDC is working to increase the evidence base needed to provide clean and safe toilets and safely managed sanitation services in developing countries with limited resources. CDC’s efforts to improve sanitation are part of a worldwide initiative to break the silence surrounding the sanitation crisis.

To learn more about CDC efforts and other current sanitation initiatives visit:

Posted on by Madison Walter, MPH, CHESTags ,

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