WaterSHED: Affordable toilet shelters made easy



WaterSHED is designing the first pre-fabricated, flat-packed, easy-to assemble latrine shelter for mass-production in the rural market in Southeast Asia.  But their hope of bringing a design from prototype to production relies on external support and partnerships. Read on to see how you can help!
Ms. Kaov ThathPat Lang village in Kampong Chhnang province is a two-hour drive north of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, where Ms. Kaov Thath lives in a traditional wooden house on stilts.  The home she shares with her children and grandchildren is in disrepair, cloth covering up holes in the floorboards and cracks running up the wooden pillars from years of monsoon rains.

But at the back of the property is an entirely different story. A nearly finished concrete toilet structure stands in stark contrast to her seemingly fragile home. “This toilet is for life,” explains Ms. Thath, who spent USD $500 for the material and labour to construct the brick and mortar shelter, money she borrowed from her extended family. But with a missing door and roof it’s still days before the half dozen people living on the property can begin to use the toilet and stop defecating in the bushes.

In Pat Lang village, few can afford Ms. Thath’s “superstructure”. In fact, 90 percent of the households in the community have no toilet and remain at high risk of waterborne illnesses such as diarrhea and cholera. Nationally, the numbers are similarly grim. Nearly 70 percent of rural Cambodians do not have a toilet despite millions of dollars being poured into sanitation awareness campaigns and heavily subsidized hardware. With recent efforts to develop the market for toilets, suppliers across much of the country now sell the concrete pit rings, chamber box and slab that make up a latrine core for as little as USD $50 – before NGO subsidies and rebates often push the price even lower.

But little attention has been paid to latrine shelters, leaving people to choose mainly between a makeshift thatched cover or an expensive, energy- and labour-intensive brick-and-mortar structure. Many in Cambodia’s rural communities forgo purchasing a toilet until they can afford the more attractive brick shelter and, at an average income of less than $3 per day, that wait can last for years.


Assembled in a Day


WaterSHED Shelter AssemblyWaterSHED, a local NGO based in Cambodia and Vietnam, is the first in the region to design a permanent household latrine shelter that is prefabricated, flat-packed and easy-to-assemble. The organization used a human-centered design process to understand consumer preferences and found consumers were interested in a shelter that was long-lasting, quick to install and easy to clean. The team is currently developing their second set of prototypes based on their consumer research.

The team at WaterSHED, led by MIT graduate Emily Gorbaty, came up with a unique design using lightweight but durable materials. A kit consisting of four walls, a roof, and a door will be delivered to the consumer. Each wall will be prefabricated in a factory and light enough to be carried by hand. The walls bolt together, thereby eliminating the need for special tools or professional masons.  The entire structure can be assembled in one day.

WaterSHED began researching and testing the improved shelter in 2013 after winning The Reed Elsevier Environmental Challenge USD $50,000 award.  Today, the organization is looking to be the first to mass-produce a shelter for the rural market, leveraging their Hands-Off Sanitation Marketing program that supports local businesses to enter the toilet market.  The program has already been successful, enabling partner enterprises to sell more than 100,000 toilets in Cambodia alone.  WaterSHED’s goal is to offer an improved and affordable latrine shelter throughout Southeast Asia and India where combined nearly 150 million households do not have a toilet.

WaterSHED is now seeking partnerships with manufacturers to take the shelter to market. It is also calling on its supporters to vote for the new shelter design, which is a semi-finalist in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) design competition.  The top 10 organizations with the most votes will have the opportunity to present their design to ASME for a chance to win a portion of a $500,000 grant to help them take their prototypes to production.

You can vote every day for WaterSHED’s shelter until April 15th by heading to ASME’s Facebook page or clicking here.

Julia White
Marketing & Communications Manager, WaterSHED



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