Tackling the Challenges of Cyclone Season

WOW - A lot has happened since the last update!

It has been very busy here in Vanuatu, with so many projects going on. In the last blog, I talked about getting some funding from EWB Australia to prototype a Portable Toilet for people living with a disability. So much progress has been made regarding this over the last few months - but that's not all that's happened!


Members of the two CBSE Construction Teams putting together the first Portable Toilets

Firstly, the Community Based Social Enterprise (CBSE) supported by Live and Learn built the prototype Portable Toilets, and then in April and May we had two cyclones pass through! These were massive storms, but thankfully just passed by us so we only received moderate winds and heavy rain. What these cyclones did do though was activate all of the disaster response clusters and the National Disaster Management Office into action. Many organisations were aware that we had just finished building a number of these toilets, and it was suggested that in the lead up to the cyclones that these toilets be used to support people in evacuation centres if needed. So, the Portable Toilet became re-purposed as a toilet for emergencies!

The Portable Toilet is a simple solution from a technical perspective, but it requires a more social-cultural focus in order to be successful. Engaging the users in the design process, operation and maintenance is very important.

In May, as Cyclone Donna passed by us, it mainly affected the remote northern islands of Vanuatu. In Efate, where I am based, we had a lot of rain and one community lost their homes to flood water and had to retreat to a kindergarten being used as an evacuation centre. A request came through from the local government to ask if we could support this community with the Portable Toilets (the kindergarten did not have appropriate toilet facilities for the evacuees). Thankfully, with the support of EWB Australia we made a few more toilets, and then gathered together materials for hygiene, cleaning, and basic structures that we could set up with the community.


Building a basic structure around the Portable Toilet at Teouma Valley Evacuation Centre.

Following hygiene awareness and ‘How to’ training, facilitated by the Ministry of Health, we left the toilets with the community. Upon returning a few days later, we found the buckets from the toilets had been washed out and sitting in the sun, ready to be used again in the evening. It was great to see the hygiene training had sunk in and was being implemented. Feedback from community members was positive- appreciating the separate space for men and women and not having to walk into the bush and through flood water to go to the toilet.


Portable toilet set up with basic shelter.


Community members, CBSE construction with a simple handwashing station next to the Portable Toilets

Implementing Portable Toilets as an emergency option for the kindergarten was a great experience and the lessons learnt have been shared with the Vanuatu WASH sector, National Disaster Management Office and local government. In the near future, we will be progressing the messages surrounding the operation and maintenance of the system so that we can scale up and gain acceptance for the Portable Toilet as an emergency option.

Going back to the original concept of the Portable Toilet - recently we have begun a series of case studies. The CBSE have identified a number of people living with disabilities where the Portable Toilet may improve the quality of life. We are working with the Vanuatu Society for Disabled People to make this option more widely available. The purpose of this is to improve our understanding of the application, design modifications, use and behaviour change relating to a different audience, allowing for a wider application and promotion.

With the CBSE construction teams well established we are well into constructing toilets! But the teams are not just on the tools, we are building capacity across the whole construction process. From site assessments, design, quantity surveying and costing. I have challenged all members of the construction team to take these tasks on.


SAMAPETA construction team undertaking design and costing for a toilet.


Setting up pipes for a button flush toilet- Working out levels and falls.

We are now at the stage where we will collectively come up with the design but do the costing separately, then come back and compare. The construction team is getting better each time. These skills and experiences will be critical to a sustainable business model for the CBSE. It is exciting to see this progression in just a few months.


The completed toilet- and a happy customer!

I will be back in New Zealand for the EWB Conference on 29 July in Auckland, presenting on the work we are doing here and my experience as an EWB Field Professional. So come along and check out the great line up of presenters and talk more about toilets!


Matt's placement is a partnership between EWB Australia and EWB New Zealand and is funded by the Australian Government Aid Program (DFAT).