Toilets by the people, for the people!

It is not always easy to find a toilet to buy that is attractive, affordable, durable, environmentally-appropriate, and convenient for the whole family. For people living in informal settlements, or who have physical impairments, that can be especially difficult. Though it is not something that many people think about, toilet design is crucial to social inclusion, environmental health and access to basic human rights. Through the Western Pacific Sanitation Marketing and Innovation Project Live & Learn is supporting Community Based Sanitation Enterprises (CBSEs) to develop solutions that meet sanitation and hygiene needs for their communities. 

 Human Centred Design (HCD) Workshops have been held in the communities of Blacksand and Ekasup (Vanuatu) and Henderson and Namoliki (Solomon Islands) to ensure that the needs of the community are addressed appropriately and a range of criteria considered. The purpose of the HCD workshops was to collect information about local needs and preferences, resource and cost constraints, environmental considerations, water-related risks and waste management, as well as to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of different sorts of potential toilets. This participatory process will influence the design of toilets sold by CBSEs and other products and services that they provide, ensuring they are responding the market demand. Similar participatory design processes are underway in Fiji and Papua New Guinea. 

During the workshops, it became evident that the environment played a very large role in the type of toilets that were best for each location. For example, low lying areas and flood-prone areas (such as Blacksand in Vanuatu and Henderson in the Solomon Islands) are at risk of contamination of water sources during times of natural disasters. As a result of this, the type of toilets preferred in these localities leaned strongly to whether the content of toilets stayed sealed inside during flooding. Other environmental factors that played a major role in toilet choice were whether the land is rocky (which makes it harder to dig), the depth to water table and the need to protect groundwater, availability of water (for example, flush toilets are dependent on sufficient quantities), and whether the land is hilly. One example of interacting environmental factors was in Namoliki in the Solomon Islands, where piped water was available but local dams were open and not protected, which meant that the choice of toilet needed to make sure that it would not contaminate the water in the dams.

Information is also being collected on how to ensure there are safe and accessible options for everyone. Whether someone is male, female, elderly, pregnant, very young, disabled, or with a health condition, every person needs regular access to a toilet. Design elements such as railing, sitting versus squatting toilets, and ease of cleaning make a big difference in terms of accessibility, ease or difficulty of use, and the amount of maintenance required.

Making options like these available will not only allow the full realisation of this basic human right for all, but increase the business opportunities for the CBSE’s!

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