Ecological sanitation (ecosan), like other water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) interventions, aim for long-term change, in users’ behaviour as much as in the availability of functioning hardware, long after the project phase has ended.

However, the reality of donor-funded projects means that monitoring and evaluation ends often within a few months. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the positive impacts of such projects can be short-lived, or at least reduce over time. “Return to learn” initiatives involve returning to the sites of terminated WASH projects to look for potential long-term success factors that could inform future projects.

Burkina Faso has extensive experience with urine-diverting dry toilets (UDDTs) and the reuse of human excreta in agriculture. Around 30 such ecosan projects have been implemented over the past 15 years. The country has a goal of 100% toilet coverage and optimal reuse by 2030, with UDDTs projected to make up around 300 000 of the 2 million toilets needed in rural areas. It is therefore timely to take stock and learn from past interventions.

The authors identified four “return to learn” initiatives (studies/events) concerning ecosan projects, from which they draw recommendations to improve the sustainability of future implementation of ecosan in Burkina Faso and similar contexts.

Key recommendations

Recommendations include paying attention to differing user needs; handwashing; and training on toilet/container emptying and waste reuse.

Research and innovation are also imported on toilet design, urine collection and handling, menstrual hygiene management, and cost reduction and financing.

In addition, to enable resource recovery and reuse at scale, it will be important to develop a supportive policy and legal framework with collaboration between the WASH, agriculture, health and environmental sectors.