Sanitation and Natural Hazards – A Disaster Management Response

The Caribbean has been recently hit by two massive hurricanes, Irma and Maria, causing devastation to property and loss of lives across Barbuda and Dominica. Graphic scenes of the devastation they left in their paths were all over social media and image of a broken Dominican Prime Minister was etched in our minds as he spoke of the devastation of the Nature Isle of the Caribbean. Media houses reporting about the ravages of these “Natural Disasters”.

My Blood boiled every time the term “Natural Disaster” was mentioned. It is a natural hazard! A disaster happens when we are unable to cope with the impact of the hazard!! Disaster Management or disaster risk reduction (DRR) helps to reduce people’s vulnerability and therefore risk of a Disaster. Example the hurricane is the hazard, flooding is a disaster risk. If people are are relocated from flood prone areas if the flooding occurs (risk) there is nobody affected, hence no disaster. Disaster rests largely on human behaviour or lack thereof.

But while we talk about the loss of property, very little conversation is being had about water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); and in particular sanitation. With the passage of a hurricane, important services are interrupted – services more important than communication. Very often, electricity and water are interrupted and this has serious ramifications for sanitation. With the invention of water closets, having no water in these times post hazard, reduces the territories ability to cope with the impact of the hazard with regard to sanitation. There is NO WATER to flush toilets. Where would people relieve themselves? Some are forced to use waterways or dig holes to deposit the excreta, which eventually finds its way into the waterways. Effluent into the waterways presents an emerging disaster in the aftermath of such hazards as waterborne diseases become an immanent threat. Women and girls (children) are disproportionately impacted (because the Caribbean is a matrifocal space) particularly by the stigma of lack of sanitation option, when the water closets are no longer functional. Haiti serves as a case study of the importance of managing water, sanitation and hygiene in the aftermath of a hazard to avoid more loss of lives stemming from improper sanitation and hygiene practices.


As the Caribbean considers its own vulnerability to Hazards, it needs to look beyond safer shelter and at sustainable sanitation options to mitigate emerging biological disasters. Dry toilets as a solution has become something that is scoffed at. Some members of parliament have worked assiduously to remove pit latrines for the the cosmetic water closet, even where there is no centralised sewage system. There is no consideration for where those soakaway pits releases the effluent. The majority of homes with water closets have only soakaway pits rather than the prescribed pre-treatment septic tanks. We flush and we forget. No thought is given to where this effluent ends up. Our waterways (rivers, wells, acquifers, ravines) become contaminated. This problem is compounded where there is a storm. In addition to the high possibility of leakage with these soakaway pits, our water closets become a health hazard with continued use and no water to flush.


Old time sin’ting come back again – dry toilets! The seventh goal of Millennium Development Goal is ensuring environmental sustainability. Our penchant for “development” projects at the expense of environmental sustainability will be the death of us as a region. We are vulnerable to natural hazards but disaster is the machinations of our own doing. Dry toilet options are a sustainable solution that we refuse to look at because of the stigma we have associated with them. There is the fossa alterna latrine; the arborloo and other alternatives, especially for decentralised sewage systems. However, I want to recommend the Ventilated Improved Double Pit (VIDP). This sanitation solution requires no water and it is sealed to prevent leakage into our waterways; it carries NO smell; biologically kills bacteria and vectors (flies, roaches) and can be used even after the passage of a hurricane. The VIDP is environmentally sustainable and prevents sanitation distress after the passage of a hurricane when water services are interrupted. In the wake of Irma and Maria, many are without housing, but even worse, more are without proper sanitation solutions and the cost on the environment is underestimated.

Completed VIDP constructed in Portmore, St. Catherine, Jamaica. The VIDP is a sealed dry toilet, which can be designed with aesthetic appeal.

VIDP in process of construction.

These risers (toilet seats) are locally produced (Portmore, Jamaica) using wood and then enameled and painted to resemble traditional water closet risers.

An example of a VIDP riser from South Africa

A dry toilet that is attached to the dwelling and designed with aesthetic appeal

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