Materials and Hardware

Sanitation service delivery cannot be provided without hardware. It requires construction materials such as wood, bricks, concrete or plastic sheeting, (partly) prefabricated solutions, spare parts, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and cleaning materials and consumables to ensure the proper use, Operation and Maintenance of sanitation facilities. Depending on the technical solutions chosen, the materials and hardware can either be locally sourced (preferable), be imported or require specialised manufacturing (which may considerably delay implementation during an emergency). The materials chosen can influence the long-term sustainability of sanitation interventions.  

Key Actions

    • Procure materials and tools locally whenever possible

    • Assess the type of tools and materials available on the local market and consider this in the selected construction methods and technology choices.

    • Select the best possible quality whenever the safety of service users or sanitation workers depends on the type of tool or material used


The materials required to implement sanitation technologies significantly affect the choice of technology. The choices may be influenced by the local availability of the materials, the operation and maintenance requirements and the intended long-term sustainability of the implemented sanitation technologies.

Agencies often default to typical emergency materials such as plastic sheeting even when there are much better local alternatives available. Only specific technologies in the sanitation service chain (such as desludging materials and PPE) may require specialised materials that have to be imported. The use of suitable local materials can be more efficient, cost-effective and quicker than importing expensive materials. It also supports the local economy and is more sustainable.


Sanitation service delivery cannot be provided without materials and hardware. Possible construction materials for sanitation technologies (such as toilets, emptying, transport or basic treatment facilities) include:

    • Wood

    • Grass and leaves

    • Clay or mud

    • Earth blocks

    • Bamboo (also for pit lining)

    • Bricks and stones (also for pit lining)

    • Cement

    • Pre-cast concrete rings (for pit lining)

    • Gravel and sand

    • Oil drums (for pit lining or storage containers)

    • Tyres for lining

    • Metal components (e.g. locks and hinges)

The use of local materials (and existing local designs) is preferable for many reasons. As long as they are available in the local market, local materials can be deployed immediately for rapid construction in the 1st phase of an emergency response – typically for traditional pit latrines. As the emergency response progresses, changing conditions may enable a move towards improved latrines, again using local materials. This has the added benefit that the resulting use of local materials and designs will be viewed by beneficiaries as a local good, encouraging an enhanced sense of community ownership and mobilising the communities to undertake repairs, maintenance and cleaning. Additionally, repairs can be more easily carried out using locally available construction materials and spare parts. A further benefit of local procurement is its support for the local market.

Tools are often available locally and, although they may be of lower quality than imported tools, they are likely to be much more cost-effective and the target population will be more accustomed to using them. Heavy or specialised equipment may also be locally available and influence the selected construction methods as well as the overall technology choice.

For latrine construction, a rotation system of toolkits can be established, each shared between 10-15 households and signed out to a representative of the user community. Users can use the toolkit to construct their own latrines. A system of support for those who are unable to construct the latrines themselves is essential if this approach is adopted.

Although using locally available materials is good practice, some tools and materials may not be of sufficient quality or are not locally available. As an example, for the desludging of latrines (especially in contexts where pits contain very thick sludge or where large amounts of solid waste are present in latrine pits), it can be difficult to procure sludge pumps that can pump such sludge and that do not break down or clog. A clogged pump during desludging leads to very unhygienic and therefore potentially dangerous conditions. A practical guide to pit-emptying technologies is listed under key resources below.

Another example of non-negotiable quality is PPE, such as gloves, rubber boots, masks and/or glasses. An example ‘Standard Operation Procedure’ for emergency lime treatment is listed below under key resources, explaining the minimum quality of PPEs required for sanitation workers.

For sludge treatment, depending on the type of technologies chosen, materials could be locally available or imported. For example, if the treatment technology is based on natural systems like settling tanks, ponds or constructed wetlands, the materials required for construction are usually available locally. However, if the technology chosen is conventional, for example activated sludge or membrane bioreactors, materials and equipment might have to be imported; this might also apply to spare parts. Skilled people to operate and maintain the treatment plant may also have to be recruited elsewhere.

The Compendium of Sanitation Technologies in Emergencies provides a comprehensive overview of available sanitation technologies, including information on materials and equipment required for the construction, operation and maintenance of a given technology to support informed technology decision-making.

Author(s) (1)
Marij Zwart
Netherlands Red Cross (NLRC)
Reviewer(s) / Contributor(s) (2)
Rob Gensch
German Toilet Organization (GTO)
Shirish Singh
IHE Delft Institute for Water Education

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