19 November 2017

Ever wonder where our poo goes?

Safely managed sanitation keeps children healthy, prevents the spread of disease and allows them to live with dignity.

Photography and social change
6 min readNov 18, 2017


Today, 4.5 billion people around the world don’t use safe sanitation. Without toilets and sanitation systems, human waste contaminates the environment in which children live, the water they drink and the food they eat. The poorest and most vulnerable children are most at risk. In Mozambique, Lino Luís Nhandimo and Einosio Banze are among those working to safely manage poo.

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Lino Luís Nhandimo, saying goodbye to his family before going to work, is a faecal sludge operator for ACADEC, a community-based organization contracted by Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), an international NGO with expertise in urban water and sanitation, in Maputo, the capital.

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Lino Luís (right) sets off for work.

“I am the first one in my family to do this job,” he adds. “There are many people who say this job is not good. I don’t care … with this job, I earn money and can provide for my family.… There is no problem for me and my wife…. She loves me just the way I am.”

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“[I] see my schedule and discuss with my colleagues what we need to do,” Lino Luís says.

Lino Luís (right) and a colleague don protective clothing, a must for the hazardous job, before heading out to work in the capital.

“The job is dangerous, mainly when you are not protected,” he adds.

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In towns and cities in particular, onsite systems need to be regularly emptied and transported for treatment. In 2015, 53 per cent of Mozambique’s urban residents lacked even a basic sanitation facility. Lino Luís (right) and colleagues head out to clean the first latrine.

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WSUP recently installed a latrine outside the home of Sophia Pedro Kumbana, here with her grandson Edmar Joseph.

“I live in this house that I share with eleven family members,” says Sophia. “I have received this toilet almost two months ago.”

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Before, Sophia’s latrine was uncovered and made from a tyre and sacks.

“Now, we don’t have flies , and even when it rains, it doesn’t matter, we can go to the toilet,” says Sophia of the upgraded latrine “We have some small children here, they go to a potty and then we put the waste in the toilet.“

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To reach everyone with sanitation, all poo must be contained, transported, treated and disposed of in a safe and sustainable way. Yet for many, the right to even a basic level of access remains unmet. The sludge operators work to clean a toilet system at a home.

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Pipes or latrine-emptying services must move the poo to the treatment stage, and emptying services should adequately protect sanitation workers and ensure excreta is not spilled or dumped before reaching treatment. The men pump sewage from the home into the container tank on their truck.

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“We have boots, gloves, overalls, a helmet and a mask,” Lino Luís says. “We use the mask to protect us from the sewage and that it does not come into our mouth.”

The men put back the slab cover after cleaning the toilet drain.

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Unsafe sanitation is everyone’s business. Waste from one household can put an entire community at risk when not managed properly. Lino Luís (on truck) helps pack up equipment after draining a latrine.

“After we clean the toilets we go to the waste water treatment plant to discard the waste,” he says.

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Poo must be processed into treated wastewater and waste products that can be safely returned to the environment. Lino Luís (right) and his colleagues, standing outside a home after draining a latrine, prepare to leave for the wastewater treatment plant in Maputo.

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A girl in the capital clambers along the rusty corrugated fence outside Yvonne Antonoia Mathe’s home, to avoid stagnant water on the flooded road. WSUP is slated to install a latrine at Yvonne’s home, where corrugated iron sheeting separates her open informal latrine from the road.

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Every toilet should be safe, private and accessible.

“Fourteen members of my family live here … Our toilet is bad, there is no other word to describe it. It’s a hole in the ground lined with bricks,” says Yvonne, with her nephew. “[S]ometimes people can see me or my children when we go to the toilet.”

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Toilets come in many forms, from flush toilets to simple pit latrines, and should include handwashing facilities.

“The toilet will be only for our household. This will be the first proper toilet that I have ever had in my life.… We will contribute to pay for the toilet … and to maintain it as well.”

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Onsite treatment and disposal of faecal sludge includes covering and abandoning a pit when it gets full. Faecal sludge operator Einosio Banze, who also works for ACADEC, is helping his colleagues to clean and permanently close up an informal latrine at a house in the capital.

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“There are many people who say this job is not good. If I listen to them then I will have nothing to provide for my family,” Einosio (right) says. “[M]y wife knows about this job, she recognizes that there are not many opportunities in this country and this city.”

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(Left-right) Einosio and Lino Luís empty an informal latrine at a home.

“I am proud to help people with sanitation. I help them to avoid having diseases…,” Einosio says. “Cleaning the toilets is good for me as I am helping people to have good health,” says Lino Luís.

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Off-site treatment of faecal sludge emptied from pit latrines or septic tanks is another essential way that poo can be treated. Dealing with our poo properly helps avert danger from disease. The men tie the waste up securely for careful transport to the lone waste treatment facility in the area.

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Safe sanitation is more than just a toilet, it is a full waste management system. With safe water and good hygiene, improved sanitation could prevent around 842,000 deaths globally each year. Every child has a right to safe water and sanitation. Einosio and Lino Luis are doing their part to help.

Learn more about water and sanitation.



Photography and social change

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