DAKAR, March 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Tiger worm
toilets which turn human waste into fertiliser could prove to be
an affordable and sustainable sanitation solution for
increasingly crowded slums and refugee camps across the
developing world, water and sanitation experts say.
The earthworm-filled toilets take up less space than pit
latrines, need to be emptied far less frequently, present less
of a health risk, and can provide communities with rich compost
for growing crops, according to sanitation specialists.
The tiger worm toilets were first trialled by charity Oxfam
in slums in the Liberian capital of Monrovia in 2013, and have
since been installed in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Myanmar.
With a record 65.3 million people uprooted by conflict or
persecution worldwide in 2015, and urban populations booming
across the globe, aid agencies say innovation is key to
improving water and sanitation for camps and communities.
"The joy of tiger worms is that they reproduce faster with
the more poo they have to feed off ... so they are self
sustaining," Andy Bastable, Oxfam's head of water and
sanitation, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
While pit latrines have to be cleared out regularly, which
is time-consuming and costly, the tiger worm toilets built in
Monrovia four years ago have yet to need emptying, Oxfam said.
The main drawback is the initial cost of buying the two
kilograms of tiger worms needed per toilet, according to the
U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR), which worked with Oxfam to install
the toilets in a camp for South Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia.
"Tiger worm toilets are promising but they aren't the silver
bullet to change sanitation across Africa," Bastable added. "The
winner will be a toilet technology that can be adapted to
individual countries to meet the needs of a specific community."
While new technologies are seen as crucial, attitudes
towards water and sanitation must be challenged in rural areas
and countries where open defecation is rife, such as Nigeria and
India, said Remi Kaupp, a technical advisor at charity WaterAid.
Aside from tiger worm toilets, other innovations being used
and tested in refugee camps include harnessing solar energy to
turn human waste into smokeless cooking fuel, and using urine to
generate electricity and light up toilets at night.
But for ventures such as tiger worm toilets to be
'game-changing', they must go beyond being technologically
impressive, said Elisa Roma, a sanitation expert at the London
School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).
"There needs to be a sustained demand for such products ...
(and) viable business models that allow the innovation to
operate without subsidies and beyond initial aid from
international funders," Roma said.
(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Ros Russell; Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights,
trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience.