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Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response

Excreta disposal standard 1: Environment free from human faeces

The living environment in general and specifically the habitat, food production areas, public centres and surroundings of drinking water sources are free from human faecal contamination.

Key actions (to be read in conjunction with the guidance notes)

  • Implement appropriate excreta containment measures immediately (see guidance note 1).
  • Carry out rapid consultation with the affected population on safe excreta disposal and hygienic practices (see Hygiene promotion standard 1, guidance notes 1–6).
  • Carry out concerted hygiene promotion campaign on safe excreta disposal and use of appropriate facilities (see Hygiene promotion standard 1, guidance notes 1–6).


Key indicators (to be read in conjunction with the guidance notes)

  • The environment in which the affected population lives is free from human faeces (see guidance notes 1–2).
  • All excreta containment measures, i.e. trench latrines, pit latrines and soak-away pits, are at least 30 metres away from any groundwater source. The bottom of any latrine or soak-away pit is at least 1.5 metres above the water table (see guidance note 3).
  • In flood or high water table situations, appropriate measures are taken to tackle the problem of faecal contamination of groundwater sources (see guidance note 3).
  • Drainage or spillage from defecation systems does not contaminate surface water or shallow groundwater sources (see guidance note 3).
  • Toilets are used in the most hygienic way possible and children’s faeces are disposed of immediately and hygienically (see guidance note 4).

Guidance notes

  1. Safe excreta disposal: Safe excreta disposal aims to keep the environment free from uncontrolled and scattered human faeces. Immediately after a disaster and while an excreta disposal management plan is put in place, consider implementing an initial clean-up campaign, demarcating and cordoning off of defecation areas, and siting and building communal toilets. Based on context, a phased approach to solving the sanitation problem at hand is most effective. Involve all groups from the disaster-affected population in the implementation of safe excreta disposal activities. Where the affected population has not traditionally used toilets, it will be necessary to conduct a concerted hygiene promotion campaign to encourage safe excreta disposal and to create a demand for more toilets. In urban disasters where there could be damage to existing sewerage systems, assess the situation and consider installing portable toilets or use septic and/or containment tanks that can be regularly desludged. Due consideration should be given to desludging, handling, transportation and final disposal of the sludge.
  2. Defecation areas: In the initial phase and where land is available, mark off a defecation field and/or construct trench latrines. This will only work if the site is correctly managed and maintained and the affected population understands the importance of using the facilities provided and where they are located.
  3. Distance of defecation systems from water sources: The distance of soak pits, trench latrines and/or toilets from water sources should be at least 30 metres and the bottom of the pits should be at least 1.5 metres above the groundwater table. These distances need to be increased for fissured rocks and limestone, or decreased for fine soils. In some disaster response, groundwater pollution may not be an immediate concern if it is not to be directly used for drinking. Instead, household-level water treatment or other options should be adopted (see Water supply standard 2, guidance note 6. In flooded or high water table environments, it may be necessary to build elevated toilets or septic tanks to contain excreta and prevent it contaminating the environment. It is also imperative that drainage or spillage from septic tanks does not contaminate surface water and/or groundwater sources.
  4. Containment of children’s faeces: Give particular attention to the disposal of children’s faeces, as they are commonly more dangerous than those of adults (excreta-related infection among children is frequently higher and children may not have developed antibodies to infections). Parents and caregivers should be provided with information about safe disposal of infants’ faeces, laundering practices and the use of nappies (diapers), potties or scoops for effectively managing safe disposal.