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close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) / Alto Comisionado de Naciones Unidas para los Refugiados (ACNUR), 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder17. Environmental sanitation
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentOverview
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentBasic Principles And Standards
View the documentHuman Resources And Organization
View the documentHuman Excretia Disposal
View the documentSolid Wastes
View the documentWastewater
View the documentPest and Vector Control
View the documentGeneral Hygiene
View the documentDisposal Of The Dead
View the documentKey References
View the documentAnnexes

Basic Principles And Standards

· Take full account of sanitation needs in site selection and layout;

· Analyse sanitation and environmental hygiene issues as part of the initial needs and resources assessment;

· Seek professional advice from those with local knowledge;

· Consult and involve the refugees in the design and location of sanitary facilities, and particularly their maintenance;

· Educate the refugees as part of the public health education programme and devote special attention to sanitation matters at school for refugee children.

6. As stressed in the chapter on site planning, environmental sanitation will be a very important consideration in site layout, and the organization and operation of the sanitation services must be integrated with other community services.

7. Developing adequate sanitation in a refugee emergency is difficult; but correcting mistakes is even more difficult. Expert advice should be sought from a public health engineer who is familiar with the habits of the refugees and nationals of the country of asylum, and if possible has experience of refugee emergencies. Assistance should first be sought locally from sources such as government departments, the UN system, NGOs, universities, consultants or contractors. If these cannot meet the need. Headquarters' assistance should be requested.

8. Good sanitation depends to a great extent on the attitudes of the community and the people who run the system. The systems and services developed should be able to operate effectively with a minimum of outside involvement. Refugees themselves must be trained to run the environmental sanitation programmes.

9. The public health education programme must place proper emphasis on the importance of sound environmental sanitation practices. The link between excretia contamination and disease must be clearly understood by all.

Whatever the success of the sanitation system with adults, children will present a special challenge.

Children are both the main sufferers from excretia-related diseases and also the main excreters of many of the pathogens that cause diarrhoea. Teaching environmental sanitation in schools is therefore essential.

Table 1 - Number and Types of Sanitary Facilities Required





1 latrine/family

1 cubicle/20 persons

1 cubicle/100 persons
or defecation





1 bin, 100 litres /
10 families or 50 persons

1 wheelbarrow /
500 persons and 1 tipper /
5,000 persons

1 pit (2 m × 5 m and
2 m deep) / 500 persons
1 deep pit for each clinic

10. Measures to contain human excretia and to dispose of refuse should be taken immediately. Since it is almost impossible to estimate how long refugees will stay in a given site, more durable facilities should also be established simultaneously. For example, once a defecation field has been established, latrine construction should begin at once; the greater the time lag between those two actions, the more difficult to shift people from their previous habit (defecation in the open) to subsequent building and use of latrines. Even in hot, dry climates, human excretia disposed of on the ground can favour the transmission of diseases.

11. Communal facilities, especially latrines are difficult to maintain in a permanent state of cleanliness. However, refuse management (especially transportation and final disposal) is better to organize on a communal basis. Domestic wastewater drainage requires a combination of both individual and communal systems. Drains collecting wastewater from each household have to be connected to main ones which will channel those waters away from the living quarters.

12. General norms and standards related to specific activities (excretia disposal, solid waste, vector control, etc.) should be seen as indicative only and be adapted in each case to the prevailing social, cultural and physical conditions. Table 1 above gives standards which can help to work out a preliminary quantitative estimate of the most urgent needs.

13. Surveys of the status of environmental sanitation programmes should be carried out regularly and corrective action taken (see Annex 1, Environmental Sanitation Survey Form).