The destruction of sanitary systems by war or natural disasters can aggravate the initial tragedy, causing disease and prolonged risk of death among survivors. Very often after a disaster, survivors dig holes in the ground that serve as makeshift toilets. Pathogens from the human waste can reach sources of water and cause outbreaks of cholera and other diseases. A United Nations team is now developing a smart toilet for disaster areas, designed to protect the sanitation chain and prevent water pollution.
The experimental project, called eSOS, is lightweight and runs on solar power. Damir Brdjanovic and his team of scientists at UNESCO's Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands say it is designed to bring disaster relief into the 21st century.
"The eSOS, which stands for Emergency Sanitation Operation System, is a holistic approach to the emergency sanitation. It involves several components - eSOS smart toilet, smart transport, and dislodging of each toilet unit, and centralized treatment of feces and urine and the safe disposal of materials, like dry sludge, which is pathogen-free, and the clean water which can be reused further in the system," said Brdjanovic.
The lightweight system is easily transported to disaster zones, but what makes it unique is that it's designed to deal with the entire emergency sanitation chain and minimize the threat to public health.
The eSOS system contains “smart” features, such as an energy supply unit, a GPS sensor, and a monitor that keeps track of waste accumulation. All of this data from the toilet system can be transferred to an emergency co-ordination center so that officials can better determine the needs of an affected area. It also can re-cycle urine into irrigation water with the help of membrane bio-reactors.
"We can treat all liquid waste, coming from the sludge treatment and from urine, into membrane bio-reactors. It's a novel technology which will treat liquid part to the level that you can even at the end, with some disinfection, have re-use of water for either toilet use or irrigation, horticulture, or any other purpose that you can imagine in a refugee camp," said Brdjanovic.
The toilet is still in the testing phase and will be deployed at a camp for disaster victims in the Philippines later this year. Its developers hope this smart disaster relief will save lives and the dignity of refugees.