Habitat Observatory

    Innovative and Appropriate Waste Management Technologies at Work
  “We used to be appalled by the constant overflowing of the septic tank, and when rains set in there was no way we could avoid the flow of dirt and contaminated rain water. We were living in an awful smelling home environment due to the malfunctioning toilets which had maintenance issues," said Premawathie about how Welsonpura urban settlement in Sri Lanka used to be. She and her daughter live in the tiny house opposite the public toilets and septic tank.

Owing to voluntary efforts of the Welsonpura community as part of an integrated urban development project facilitated by Practical Action, Sri Lanka, a lasting solution to the sewage treatment problem has been found while also enabling residents’ access to an alternative energy source through the introduction of a biogas unit.

Located within the Galle district city limits, the town of Welsonpura is home to 210 people—predominantly vendors and wage labourers without access to basic infrastructure and service facilities. Only five homes have a toilet each, while the rest of the population uses two public toilets (equipped with six units each): one for the men and one for the women. The public toilets were in dire need of repair and an effective solution to the issue of sewage overflow from the septic tank into the neighbourhood. Rocky soil in the area made matters worse, preventing the absorption of sewage from the toilets. Whenever the septic tank overflowed, the municipal council did not have sufficient resources and technology for proper cleanup. Some of the equipment, such as gully bowsers for sewage transport, failed to reach the public toilets, which were located at a considerable distance away from the nearest motor-able road.

The public toilets have now been redesigned and renovated through participation from residents of the town. Welsonpura’s bio-latrines employ a “dry toilet” technology that does not require the excessive water expenditures typical of flush toilets. Rather than being released into the ground, waste is collected into a storage tank and processed to produce organic manure suitable for use as fertliser. As the waste biodegrades, the digester captures methane gas that is used for lighting and cooking. Apart from digesting human waste, the biogas unit also provides households with a facility for the disposal of kitchen waste—a solution that is made possible by sorting decomposable organic materials.

As a result of revolutionising Welsonpura’s sanitation facilities, five families now also have access to biogas, which they purchase for a nominal sum of Rs 500 on a monthly basis. These households are seeing the benefit of energy savings. Eshani Rasikas explains that they are "very glad to have access to biogas in our household as it brings us a saving nearly twice as much on firewood and kerosene for cooking. It's me my husband and three children who live at home." Further, Rs. 500 collected from the five families contributes to a community welfare fund that is used for the maintenance of the biogas unit and public toilets.

Living standards of Welsonpura’s occupants have undergone a positive change through an improvement in hygiene, sanitation and the introduction of an alternative energy supply by means of the biogas unit. Awareness-raising has also led communities of the surrounding area to understand that they have an important role to play in keeping the environment clean. For more details please log on to: or

    New Culture of Rural Hygiene: Bangladesh
  From January to July of 2011, 201 rural toilets were built in Bangladesh, and 100% of the families with new toilets use and clean them regularly. 90% of these families have noticed a health improvement thanks to their new sanitation facilities.

The change was made possible through the combined efforts of trained community members and masons: 4,860 people were trained in toilet construction under the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Programme (WaSH) of Habitat for Humanity (HFH), Bangladesh.

Something as simple as a toilet can have a dramatic impact on the life of a family. This is especially true of rural Bangladesh, where lack of proper sanitation is a major cause of diarrhoea, general morbidity and even death.

Joygon, a housewife and mother of two from Goshaibari village in Modhupur, Bangladesh, used to worry about her family’s health due to inadequate sanitation facilities.

“We use to have a pit toilet with no roof. There was no water connection. The pit would always be wet because the rings and slab were old. The smell was terrible. There were many flies,” she told HFH workers.

HFH Bangladesh assisted Joygon’s family with building the latrine, and set up a long-term payment programme to enable the family to finance the new structure by themselves without compromising their ability to pay for their school-aged son’s education. However, the work of HFH is not just about the structure: learning about healthy practices is crucial for the programme’s success, as Joygon explains:

“Before the training we didn’t know we should a washing agent when washing our hands after going to the toilet and before taking meals. We also always went to the toilet barefooted. Frequently we suffered from diarrhoea, which affected my son going to school. Now we know to use washing agent (soap, ash) for hand washing and wear sandals in the latrine.”

Joygon is very happy about the improvement in her family’s health since they received HFH Sanitation training and support.

Community spirit and the generous financial help of HFH donors make these changes possible: under the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Programme (WaSH), families undergo capacity building, and work alongside the masons in constructing their own latrines. Further, the 4,860 community members who were trained under the aegis of the programme will now continue delivering rural sanitation and hygiene support throughout Bangladesh.

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