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Environmental sanitation


 Environmental sanitation aims to achieve safe, non-polluting human waste disposal in rural and urban areas, recognising that the nature of sanitation systems has important implications for the quality and safety of the environment as a whole. In many crowded areas where waste disposal presents a health and convenience problem of significant proportions, sewerage is impracticable for cost reasons; its heavy use of water for flushing and the level of contamination it can introduce into waterways also renders it undesirable and costly from an environmental perspective. Over-dependence on ‘flush and discharge’ for human waste disposal in an era of increasing water scarcity has led to calls for an ‘ecological’ approach to sanitation, in which solid wastes and liquid wastes are separately disposed and water for flushing used sparingly if at all. The thrust of environmental sanitation is that on-site disposal via latrines is the preferred system for low-income areas. Many latrine systems also have the advantage that their stored waste contents can over time be used as nutrients for food production; in rural areas they can be used directly by householders, and in urban areas, sold as a fertiliser product for income-generation purposes. However, latrines – especially cheaper models – can be poorly constructed and insanitary, failing to confine waste adequately to prevent contamination of surrounding soil and groundwater and presenting a health hazard at times of seasonal flood. To overcome these problems and others associated with insufficient attention to the environmental implications of sanitation systems, more research is needed both into low-cost and higher-cost technologies and into methods of recycling and treatment.

Further information: Ecological Alternatives in Sanitation, SIDA, 1997; Sanitation Promotion Kit, WHO, 1997.

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