Connecting the Unconnected: Informal Toilets and a Safe Circular Water Economy: Proceedings of International Symposium

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Water is unaffordable and undrinkable for most informal urban dwellers. Even when municipal water is accessible and relatively safe, faecal bacteria contaminate the water as it is dispensed at shared water points and transported by people to their homes. Consumption of unsafe water and poor access to safe sanitation have numerous negative consequences. Safely managed sanitation, on the other hand, has many positive impacts, such as climate change mitigation potential. A key challenge to realising this potential and achieving ambitious global targets, such as Sustainable Development Goal Target 6.2, is the absence of shared toilets from policy. The symposium’s purpose was to provide a venue for researchers, practitioners and policy makers to exchange knowledge and ideas on these issues.
The symposium focussed on seven guiding questions:
− How extensive is faecal contamination of drinking water in informal settlements?
− What assumptions and practices contribute to the persistence of contamination?
− What value does society attribute to faecal waste, and can it be increased?
− Does supporting, rather than shunning, informal toilets make sense? How might it work?
− Is making ‘invisible’ faecal contamination ‘visible’ to stakeholders possible and useful?
− What are the pathways, actionable through policies, to ‘connecting the unconnected’?
− What are the key barriers to making informal sanitation a political priority?
Key discussion points:
− Safeguarding provisioned municipal water from faecal contamination is a global priority. However, municipal authorities in most developing countries prioritise drinking water provisioning over sewage management. Water is usually provided via community taps that have led to improved availability of potable water to many citizens of low-income settlements. However, it is in what we refer to as ‘the last 100 meters’ where water is carried from standpipe to home that problems arise. Through various pathways (e.g. leaking toilets, dirty buckets, unwashed hands, insect and rodent vectors) potable water and food is cross-contaminated with faecal bacteria, causing ill health and even death.
− There are important spatiality and temporal dynamics in sewage-derived contamination. The water quality is generally good in the authority-owned water supply system, but the water becomes unsafe once it arrives inside low-income settlements. Moreover, dilution in contamination may be expected during the rainy season, but in practice, many people use the rain as an opportunity to empty their toilets, so contamination in-fact increases.
− Faecal matter can be a ‘resource’, but its commercial viability needs to be proven for wider scale uptake of the circular economy of sanitation.
− More closely linking sanitation with other policy issues, such as climate change, may help to prioritise it on policy agendas and increase investment.
− Action needs to be taken at multiple levels and across scales – from local to global. At the community level, the ‘youth’ are important change agents.
− Common principles underpin attempts to ‘connect the unconnected’ but the specifics need to be context sensitive. Achieving a safe circular water economy requires effective interdisciplinary collaboration between academic and non-academic stakeholders.
− Greater pressure on governments is needed in order for sanitation to be prioritised. Despite lack of money often being used as an excuse by governments, the real problem is lack of political will to address sanitation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationConnecting the Unconnected: Informal Toilets and a Safe Circular Water Economy
Subtitle of host publicationProceedings of International Symposium
PublisherLancaster University
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 2022


  • sanitation
  • Ghana
  • Health
  • Contamination


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