In South Africa, as in a number of other countries, on-site sanitation has a dominant place in the landscape of basic sanitation infrastructure. If the question ‘What happens when the pit is full?’ has been thought of at all, it is generally assumed that the pits will be emptied by vacuum tanker. However, owing to site access constraints and the nature of the sludge itself (it can be dense and have a high trash content) vacuum tankers are not always practical. The alternative - manual pit emptying - is hazardous and unpleasant. The Water Research Commission of South Africa funded experimental development of a number of technologies designed to fill the gap between large vacuum tankers and manual emptying. This paper describes these attempts, which include the Gobbler, which uses chains and scoops to lift sludge from the pit, the motorized pit screw auger, which uses a soil auger to lift sludge from a pit, and the NanoVac and eVac, which are small vacuum pumps designed to suck relatively wet sludge from pits. The eVac shows the most promise, but it seems unlikely that any one machine will be able to successfully deal with the greatly varying conditions found in pit latrines.
Humanitarian field staff, product designers and manufacturers attended a one-day event to tackle sanitation challenges in humanitarian situations. The challenges included designing a household handwashing device, a latrine superstructure, a trench lining for latrines in difficult soils, and a raised latrine for rocky ground and areas of high water tables. Design criteria included: a manufactured commodity, lightweight and robust, packable and portable, and low cost. A number of innovative designs were discussed which will now be developed into prototypes for testing in the field.