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Half of the world’s urban population will live in informal settlements or ‘slums’ by 2030. Affordable urban sanitation presents a unique set of challenges as the lack of space and resources to construct new latrines makes the de-sludging of existing pits necessary, and this is something that is currently done manually, with significant associated health risks. Various mechanised technologies have therefore been developed to facilitate pit emptying, with the majority using a vacuum system to remove material from the top of the pit. However, this results in the gradual accumulation of unpumpable sludge at the bottom of the pit, which eventually fills the latrine and forces it to be abandoned. This study has developed a method for fluidising unpumpable pit latrine sludge, based on laboratory experiments using a harmless synthetic sludge. The implications for sludge treatment and disposal are discussed, and the classification of sludges according to the equipment required to remove them from the latrine is proposed. Finally, further work is suggested, including the ongoing development of a device to physically characterise latrine sludge in-situ within the pit.

Authors: J.T. Radford and R.A. Fenner