Sanitation without water becomes mainstream

ImageThe Clay House Project in Namibia has developed a dry-toilet that is gaining wide acceptance among users and Experts alike. The Town of Otjiwarongo is planning to build thousands of “Otji toilets” in the next few years. A group of experts to the European Union recommends the use of dry toilets to resolve sanitation problems of rural and semi-urban Namibia.

Otjiwarongo is the third largest town of Namibia and on the outskirts there are some 20,000 people living with only limited access to water. The people walk from their shacks to one of the many public tabs and fill their buckets with water; of course there is no sewage system in those parts of town. According to the law, the municipality may not give construction permits to anybody on a plot of land that is not fully serviced with water and sanitation, and of course they do not have funds to extend the waste water drainage system to include the fast growing squatter camp.

ImageBut even the people who have access to water and sewage often can not use the system, as they do not have money to pay for the high water bill and they get cut off from the service and have also to fetch water at the public tabs. Namibia is a dry land and water is scarce and extremely expensive. That is why the Municipal council has decided to rely on the Otji toilet, developed by Peter Arndt and his team at the Clay House. Other towns like Outjo and Aranos have also taken similar decisions.

The European Union and the German NGO “SODI” back up the Clay House to install 600 toilets in the next three years. Recently an evaluation team of the EU has visited Namibia and they were impressed with the performance of the Otji toilet and mainly how well toilets are maintained by the people. In their debriefing they mentioned how important it is to accompany any sanitation project with education about hygiene and voiced their criticism of sanitation projects that provided water based toilets in poor neighborhoods without proper instruction. The sewage pipes clog up because people throw newspaper and even t-shirts into the toilet... a costly experience many municipalities have made around the world.

In Otjiwarongo all inhabitants have to pay a fee to the Municipality for public services. As most families live in the informal area, the fee is collected through the water bill. Through this system even the people relying on the public water tabs are forced to pay a small fee as they can only draw water if they insert a prepaid card into the meter.  With this tax the Municipality guarantees that all Otji toilets are serviced twice a year. A contractor takes on this duty and thus guarantees that all toilets are in order, the advantage is that it costs many times less than maintaining a sewage system.  In Otjiwarongo the Clay House takes on the job of servicing the toilets and gets paid by the Municipality, in Outjo and Aranos it is private contractors trained by the Clay House.

Servicing the toilets is not a dirty job. It is all done with hooks on wooden poles and the dry manure which is taken out is quite inoffensive. The bucket full of material is dumped into a pickup truck and then driven to the municipal sewage deposit, where it is composted. At the end of the day it is a clean circle of recycling.

The “Habitat Research and Development Center” found in a GTZ-financed study “The users interviewed were al positive as they understood the operations of the toilet and they have accepted responsibility for the maintenance”. This study can be downloaded in our "Publications" section.

The scarce water reserves of Namibia can not be wasted on flushing it down the toilets. Water that has been pumped, transported and treated should be used for more important tasks like hygiene and of course for drinking and cooking. And this is not just true for Namibia, most countries of our planet face this same problem sooner or later.


Video: Dry toilett

You are here: Home Past editions Edition 33 - December 2008 Sanitation without water becomes mainstream


Kathryn Pozak
Swiss and Canadian
Political Scientist and Journalist
English, Spanish, spoken German.
General concepts and synergies, backstopping, evaluations