From the UNC Water Institute - What is ‘safe’ sanitation?


  • campbelldb
  • campbelldb's Avatar
    Topic Author
  • Dan Campbell, Knowledge Management Specialist UNC Water Institute Chapel Hill, NC Email:
  • Posts: 293
  • Karma: 13
  • Likes received: 78

From the UNC Water Institute - What is ‘safe’ sanitation?

Dear Colleagues:

An article on an innovative sanitation research study and the complete article is on the UNC website .  Below is an excerpt:

Early results from a UNC Water Institute study are upending much of what we thought we knew about safe sanitation practices. By Angela Harwood, University Development, Monday, April 19th, 2021.

Musa Manga and a team of researchers from the  UNC Water Institute  have been conducting fieldwork in Tamil Nadu for more than five years for  a study  on the unsafe return of human waste to the environment, a project sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The World Health Organization and UNICEF provide government officials around the world with standardized guidelines, flow models and approaches to safely manage sanitation technologies, but these resources are not always straightforward and may not prioritize safety in public health terms.

The most widely used diagram “tracks ‘safely managed’ versus ‘not safely managed’ sanitation systems by percentage indicators that are unclear, ambiguous and sometimes misleading,” said Manga, whose 15 years of practical experience as a public health engineer informs his research. “My team and I believe we have an improvement on this diagram that may be a lot closer to the truth, and therefore more useful.” 

Manga and his team are tracking a more relevant indicator of potential risk to public health: the number and types of fecal pathogens — bacteria, viruses or other microorganisms that can cause disease — released by different sanitation systems. Their findings are upending much of what we thought we knew about safe sanitation practices.

“Engineers widely regard pit latrines as the least advanced sanitation technology, septic tanks as an intermediate level and sewerage as the most modern and desirable,” said Manga. “We found, however, from a public health perspective, that the reverse is true.

”When sewers overflow — and they overflow frequently for a number of reasons, from clogs to broken pipes to stormwater runoff — they are releasing a higher amount of more active, harmful pathogens into the environment.“ Sewers discharging untreated sewage act as hypodermic needles, injecting the environment with pathogens,” Manga affirmed.

The complete article is on the  UNC website
Dan Campbell, Knowledge Management Specialist
UNC Water Institute
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
You need to login to reply
  • paresh
  • paresh's Avatar
  • Budding WASH researcher, especially interested in governance, public policy, finance, politics and social justice. Architect, Urban & Regional planner by training, Ex. C-WAS, India. I am a patient person :)
  • Posts: 178
  • Karma: 7
  • Likes received: 86

Re: From the UNC Water Institute - What is ‘safe’ sanitation?

Dear Dan,
Thankyou for bringing this important piece to the attention of forum members.

From the article on UNC website, it seems leaks in sewers are more hazardous because of concentration as they bring waste from distant sources compared to pits that disperse wastewater in a decentralised manner. This makes perfect sense.

Another finding that may be of interest for members is

Another misperception is that the release of untreated sludge or septage (the solids that settle in a septic tank) is worse than liquid waste. In fact, Manga discovered the potential amount of E. coli. released into the environment due to liquid overflows is about 63 times higher than that associated with sludge.

This questions the focus on FSM (in many parts of the world incl. India) while neglecting effluent from septic tanks.

I couldn't find report/paper that could be referred to. It would be great if you could get the authors to add a link here or post it to the SuSanA library.

Paresh Chhajed-Picha
Researcher at Indian Institute of Technology - Bombay, India
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Twitter: @Sparsh85
Wikipedia: Sparsh85

Co-moderator of this discussion forum
with financial support from WSSCC (now SHF)
You need to login to reply
Share this thread:
Recently active users. Who else has been active?
Time to create page: 0.236 seconds