Approaches for urban sanitation – which tool to choose?

Posted 5 Oct 2016 by Rémi Kaupp

Do you know your shit-flow diagram from your SaniPath? Rémi Kaupp, WaterAid UK’s Urban Sanitation Specialist, navigates the array of approaches available to today’s sanitation planners working towards solutions.

As my colleague Andrés recently said, we are living in exciting times when it comes to urban sanitation, my main passion. After decades of only large sewers being considered as a solution (despite being unaffordable for municipalities and for residents), a wider variety of solutions is now considered. Options now include decentralised systems and faecal sludge management for pit toilets – by far still the most common type of toilet in developing cities. The thinking has evolved too, from a multitude of isolated pilot projects to more city-wide work hand-in-hand with authorities and utilities.

With this progress has come a wide range of approaches and tools, especially in the past few years. It’s now hard for planners and for us NGO workers to choose what to use; you may have heard of shit-flow diagrams, Sanitation Safety Plans, SaniPath… so where do you start?

Sabina uses a hanging toilet in Dhaka, Bangladesh.Sabina uses a hanging toilet in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

To find my bearings, I recently did a quick review and prepared these tables, to give my WaterAid colleagues and me a better idea of which tool is useful for which stage and which context. It includes the tools used to engage municipal authorities to, for instance:

  • Choose how to represent the scale of the issue.
  • Advocate for including on-site sanitation.
  • Prioritise which areas to concentrate on first.
  • Choose specific technologies.
  • Include communities in planning services.
  • And so on.

The tables also include examples of the tools’ use in case studies. Four of them are being used by WaterAid: shit flow diagrams in Ethiopia; sanitation plans in Mozambique; and SaniPath and the faecal waste rapid assessment in Cambodia.

Shit flow diagramA ‘shit-flow diagram’ recently made in Bishoftu, Ethiopia, by the University of Leeds with the support of WaterAid Ethiopia.

The idea now is to combine this information with what we learned through the A tale of clean cities research, to see how we can adapt our approaches to urban sanitation to the opportunities for change in cities and the stage of development of sanitation there.

Rémi Kaupp is WaterAid UK’s Urban Sanitation Specialist. He tweets as @RemKau.


Add your comment


  • Ross Bailey said:

    5 Oct 2016 19:49

    I think the shift flow graphic is a powerful diagram. I wonder if we can find resource to give it a once over from a designer? Maybe WaterAid America? Excellent blog - like the short, fast thoughts here.

  • Remi Kaupp said:

    6 Oct 2016 10:32

    Hi Ross. Actually these are SHIT Flow Diagrams, they are actually talking about the faecal matter, not about shifts! and they are using a set process for preparation and publication, coordinated by a range of funders and by SuSanA, see the SFD portal on, and the University of Leeds has used it. We won't change the design but if you're keen you can join the lengthy discussions on this topic on SuSanA...

  • Eddy Perez said:

    6 Oct 2016 14:52

    Good blog but even better table. Thanks.


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