eSOS Toilet: An Answer To Kenya’s Sanitation Challenge

The smart sanitation solution provides the basic hygiene to those who need it the most.
Kashyap Vyas

It may come as a shock to some that a United Nations report suggests almost 4.5 billion people live in the absence of safely managed sanitation and around 892 million people even today practice open defecation.

As per data released by the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organisation (WHO) Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) on accesses to improved and private sanitation in Kenya, the numbers indicate that almost 30% of Kenya’s population accounting to 21 million citizens still use unsanitary or shared toilets.

Even in the time of emergencies or following a natural disaster, the availability of proper sanitation facilities is always a concern. Undeniably, poor sanitation can often kill as many people as the disaster itself.

This becomes a critical issue, particularly in the temporary camps during the recovery process. Temporary toilet facilities are also responsible for pathogens spreading through a high groundwater table or flooding.

To improve this situation, IHE Delft, the world's largest international graduate water education facility located in the Netherlands, has developed an emergency Sanitation Operation System (eSOS).

It is a holistic, sustainable and affordable sanitation solution for countries like Kenya, where open defecation is still in practice and also during the aftermath of a disaster.

eSOS Smart Toilet
Source: IHE Delft Institute for Water Education

As a matter of fact, eSOS toilet had a successful test run in the Philippines and its second prototype will soon be tested in Nairobi, Kenya.

What is eSOS? Let’s Take A Deeper Look

Reinventing emergency toilet and treatment facilities, eSOS uses information and communication technology (ICT) to cut down the expenditure of the entire sanitation management chain.

These new and innovative toilet systems can enhance the life quality of the people in proper sanitation need and also reduces the health risks.

eSOS Concept
Source: IHE Delft Institute for Water Education

It is a technology-driven toilet that is required to work in extreme weather conditions where there is a lack of clean water and electricity. Also, there is a possibility of users behaving differently than in normal situations.

Keeping all these factors in mind, eSOS was designed and developed to be highly reliable, affordable and acceptable. The need of the hour is a self-sustaining sanitation solution.

How Does It Work?

It not only provides access to basic hygiene to people in need but simultaneously collects important data as indicators for all kinds of health issues. These toilets greatly depend on vacating and cleaning on a regular basis.

Once full, the tanks need to be drained and cleaned to uphold a standard hygiene level. eSOS comprises three main components:

  • Modular smart toilet
  • Monitoring and management intelligence
  • Treatment facilities for the waste streams

It collects the data through numerous simple sensors built into the toilet. These sensors monitor the filling level and optimize the efficiency of vacating and cleaning.

Not only this, but it also forecasts the amount of fertilizer, water, and energy that can be recovered from waste streams. Sounds interesting, right?

What’s more, this collected data can also be used for further analysis. With the help of these data, we can educate ourselves with aspects related to a more effective food and drinking water supply.

For example, it can give insight into a possible hazard of diarrhea and probably the need for medication. Their robust and light-weight design makes them easily deployable in disaster areas. 

It not only improves the life quality of the people who are in need of proper sanitation, but also reduces the hazard of the health of these vulnerable people.

Unique Features of Smart eSOS Toilet:

  • Remote sensing monitoring
  • An energy supply unit
  • GSM/GPS sensor card
  • O.S system
  • Occupancy sensors
  • Urine/feces accumulation sensor

The system is powered by a solar panel and a fully charged battery can sustain up to 7 days use. In addition, eSOS is fitted with a UV germicidal light that is used in disinfecting the interior surface of the toilet.

The toilet bowl, seat and the floor surfaces are coated with non-stick hydrophobic nano coating which aids in keeping the toilets clean.

How it all started?

The concept of eSOS was developed in 2014. With the help of the funds provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Asian Development Bank, the experimental version of eSOS was made and tested in temporary recovery camps in hurricane destroyed Tacloban City, Philippines.

eSOS Smart Toilet
Source: Flex Design

Successful testing and implementation encouraged the IHE Delft team to proceed with the further developments. Meanwhile, the toilet was awarded numerous international accolades.

With the help of Via Water funds, the consortiums are developing a fully functional prototype that is soon to be field tested in Nairobi, Kenya.

The eSOS Nairobi Pilot Project includes:

  • Developing, manufacturing, assembling and testing of full-size prototype in the Netherlands
  • Shipping, installation, and testing in Nairobi
  • Evaluation, feedback, and propagation of results and experiences

The project is on time and the design phase is already completed. Also, the eSOS monitor is developed. Soon, an eSOS system will be seen in Nairobi, Kenya.

Similar Efforts By Nendo

Nendo, a Japanese design studio has also designed a temporary toilet for the people affected by natural disasters. This toilet can be assembled using found materials and can completely be dismantled for easy transportation.

Known as minimLET, it is a portable toilet seat that comes in a slim bag and can easily be carried on a shoulder or thrown in a trunk.

Each kit comprises of a lightweight toilet seat, detachable aluminum pipes for legs, toilet paper, garbage bags for collecting waste, a coagulant to solidify the waste and a nylon privacy tent.

Although it can solve the purpose for an instance, it’s not a sustainable solution that can fight the problem as huge as Kenya’s sanitation issue.


More than 2.3 billion people don’t have access to basic sanitation! The absence of good hygiene practices is one of the major underlying causes of poor livelihood within the communities.

This is where a project like eSOS brings a ray of hope. Addressing the sanitation issue can help enhance the dignity of every individual along with contributing to better safety, survival, health, and livelihoods for every Kenya resident.

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