Safe sanitation facilities and services must protect public health and ensure people’s safety and dignity. Quality standards help to ensure these important functions and prevent environmental pollution. Standards exist for the user interface and onsite storage (toilets and latrines) as well as for all other steps of the sanitation service chain. In the absence of national legislation, the Sphere standards are the most commonly used and have been recently complemented with Sanitation Quality Standards for Emergencies from the Global WASH Cluster Technical Working Group on Faecal Sludge Management (FSM TWiG).
- Be aware of local legislation and adhere to it. Often legislation exists for only part of the sanitation chain (e.g. treatment of the liquid fraction); other standards may be required for the missing parts of the chain
- Read, understand and discuss the applicability of the full text of the Sphere and Sanitation Quality Standards for Emergencies with all involved actors
- Use the agreed standards to inform the actions and targets in Management and Operational Plans
- Develop key indicators and targets for the standards and systematically monitor progress towards them to ensure quality and compliance with legislation. See Response Monitoring; take corrective action if needed
- Prioritise the elimination of open defecation, followed by a rapid upgrading of access to safe sanitation systems covering the full target population (see also Technology Selection)
- If a need exists for the desludging, transport and treatment of faecal sludge (often the case in crowded refugee camps, urban contexts or flood-prone areas), make sure the Sanitation Quality Standards for Emergencies are used and adhered to
- Ensure that the health risk of sanitation workers (all staff, including desludging, transport and treatment) is minimised
- Adopt a phased approach. The progression from the provision of acute emergency sanitation solutions towards sustainable sanitation services should be understood as an ongoing process which may need adjustments of corresponding indicators.
The provision of safe sanitation facilities and services is part of the basic conditions for life with dignity for people affected by a crisis. Badly implemented sanitation facilities and services can create health and safety risks for their users. Unsafe sanitation services often cause environmental pollution.
Minimum standards guide WASH practitioners in planning, coordinating, delivering and evaluating humanitarian sanitation activities that are well-implemented and founded on safe practices. The standards can be used to support coordination and inform Management and Operational Plans and Response Monitoring.
In every humanitarian context, the laws and regulations of local government are foremost and should be respected. The legislation that is likely to affect sanitation services includes environmental legislation relating to water quality standards, limits on the discharge of waste streams into the environment, legislation on institutional powers and responsibilities, sanitation codes, standards and guidelines and licensing requirements for operators (Tayler, 2016). Often, national legislation only exists for some parts of the sanitation service chain. For example, in some countries, effluent discharge standards exist for liquid treated faecal sludge but do not exist for the solid element of the treated faecal sludge. Unfortunately, existing legislation is not always actively enforced (Tayler, 2016).
The Sphere Standards (Sphere Association 2018)
In the absence of local standards, the Sphere standards are the most commonly used and globally recognised set of standards. They are the product of extensive inter-agency collaboration. The use of the Sphere standards is not legally binding but supports humanitarian actors to ensure quality, coordination and accountability. They include minimum standards for Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH). Most of the relevant standards for the sanitation service chain are the standards listed under ‘Excreta management’:
Excreta management standard 3.1: Environment free from human excreta
- There are no human faeces present in the environment in which people live, learn and work
- All excreta containment facilities are sited appropriately and are an adequate distance from any surface or groundwater source
Excreta management standard 3.2: Access to and use of toilets
- Ratio of shared toilets: minimum 1 per 20 people
- Distance between dwelling and shared toilet: maximum 50 meters
- Percentage of toilets that have internal locks and adequate lighting
- Percentage of toilets reported as safe by women and girls
- Percentage of women and girls satisfied with the menstrual hygiene management options at toilets they regularly use
Excreta Management Standard 3.3: Management and maintenance of excreta collection, transport, disposal and treatment
- All human excreta is disposed of in a manner safe to public health and the environment
As described in Technology Identification, a phased approach is recommended. Immediately after a crisis, the focus is on controlling open defecation through shared latrines. Later, household latrines are advocated. In addition to providing a sufficient number of safe shared toilets, the focus should be to ensure that these facilities also correspond to the needs. Inclusive Planning and Participation addresses the importance of inclusive access to ensure that people’s needs are met. Standards should be established for the safe and sustainable emptying, transport, treatment and long-term operation and maintenance of the system as early as possible. Standards related to handwashing and menstrual hygiene management can be found under Hygiene Promotion.
Sanitation Quality Standards for Emergencies (FSM TWiG 2021)
Supplementary to the Sphere standards, the FSM TWiG has taken the initiative to create sanitation quality standards for emergencies. These standards address the gaps identified in Sphere’s coverage of the full sanitation service chain and focus on each step of the chain, i.e. not only the toilet/latrine but also the different types of containment, the emptying and transport, disposal and potential reuse of faecal sludge. There are two standards:
- (1) Environment free from human excreta: absence of human faeces in the environment where people live, learn or work.
- (2) Access is provided to safe sanitation systems: accessibility, distance to water sources, design, health risks for workers, desludging, transportation, treatment and disposal.
The aim of the FSM TWiG is for the standards to be incorporated in the next edition of the Sphere Handbook.
Synergies with Site Planning
Any standards are best applied early, e.g. during Site Planning.
Reuse of Treated Faecal Sludge
If there is a demand, effluent or sludge can be reused after treatment. If reuse of treated faecal sludge is considered it must conform to national legislation or standards. Additionally, WHO guidelines on the safe use of wastewater, excreta and greywater and sanitation safety planning must be followed (WHO 2006, WHO 2018). The implementing agency is required to prove that the reuse practice is safe for the serviced communities, sanitation workers and users of end products.
Faecal Sludge and Septage Treatment. A Guide for Low and Middle Income Countries
The Sphere Handbook: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response. 4th Edition
Sanitation Quality Standards for Emergencies
Sani Tweaks. Best Practices in Sanitation
WHO Guidelines for the Safe Use of Wastewater, Excreta and Greywater - Volume 4: Excreta and Greywater Use in Agriculture
WHO Guidelines on Sanitation and Health
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