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Sanitation indicators

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There are also several indicators of the sanitation level in an emergency-affected population. This discussion will again focus only on those quantitative indicators which are frequently measured in newly displaced populations. See the Sphere Project manual (click here to open document)pages 60-62 and 71-88 for a discussion of other sanitation indicators.

Number of person per latrine

Sanitary disposal of human faeces is essential in preventing the transmission of disease-causing organisms from one person's faeces to another person. Such transmission can occur through faecal contamination of food or water or by direct transmission of faecal contamination between people. In fact, proper disposal of human and animal faeces is more effective in preventing faecal-oral transmission than food hygiene, provision of clean water, health education, or other preventive interventions. As a result, it is very important to achieve a high level of sanitation in displaced populations.

In most displaced populations, defecation in pit latrines is the most efficient method of safely disposing of human stool. This removes stool from the immediate environment and prevents its contact with water and food.

The number of persons per latrine is a basic indicator of the availability of pit latrines. Like water availability, it can be measured by dividing the number of latrines built by the total number in the population. The number of latrines built should be recorded by the organization responsible for organizing this service. This indicator is rarely measured in surveys because surveys do not provide an estimate of the population size.

The Sphere Project recommends that a maximum of 20 people use one pit latrine. Early in an acute humanitarian response, this ratio may not be possible. In such cases, the absolute maximum if 50 people per latrine. All latrines must be kept clean; if the latrine is very dirty, people will not use the latrine, leading to faecal contamination of the environment. Ideally, every family should have their own latrine.

Distance between houses and closest latrine

Another indicator of latrine availability is the distance between households and the nearest latrine. In general, having a latrine close to the house encourages its use, especially in populations where latrine use is not habitual.

As with the distance between water access points and the household, this indicator may be best measured by mapping. Although this may not give a quantitative estimate of the average distance, it can used to quickly assess if any households are beyond the recommended distance. However, unlike distance to water source, latrines may in general be closer to houses and therefore easier to measure by survey teams.

In order to encourage latrine use, the Sphere Project recommends that households be no farther than 50 meters from the closest latrine.

Amount of soap available

Soap is important in cleaning hands, clothes, bodies, and removing disease-causing organisms from the environment in other ways. This indicator measures the ability of individuals in the population to care out necessary cleaning.

The amount of soap distributed divided by the total number in the population gives an idea of the average amount of soap provided to each person. Of course, this is applicable only to the period in which soap distribution was measured and only to soap provided by public distribution programmes. In many displaced person camps, soap is available in the market, and households purchase at least part of their supplies there. Surveys can also measure the amount of soap in households selected for the survey sample by either observation or by actually weighing the soap present in the household at the time of data collection. Interview questions can also ask about the presence of soap and, if absent, how long ago the soap ran out. Matched with the date of the most recent soap distribution, these data can produce an estimate of how long distributed soap lasts.

The Sphere Project recommends that each household receive at least 250 grams of soap per month.