Navigating heterogeneous sanitation configurations: How off-grid technologies work and are reworked by urban residents

Gloria Nsangi Nakyagaba, Mary Lawhon*, Shuaib Lwasa

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
21 Downloads (Pure)


A range of innovative off-grid sanitation technologies have been developed and deployed to improve sanitation in cities where networked sanitation by publicly managed sewers is insufficient. Studies of such technologies tend to consider toilets as static, where technologies are chosen once, at the project onset and in isolation from each other. In this study we explore off-grid sanitation as heterogeneous infrastructure configurations of people and toilets, roles and responsibilities, costs and benefits. Using two cases from Kampala, we emphasise that there are relationships between the different parts of infrastructure, and that these relationships vary over time and space. Urban residents rework configurations by changing a toilet and changing which toilets are used in order to meet their diverse sanitation desires. We demonstrate technological diversity, connect this diversity to the preferences of users by showing linkages between toilets that are proximate to each other, and show the importance of considering relations between toilets over time. Our analysis demonstrates how operations, cultural orientations, payment mechanisms, and limitations have a significant bearing on feasibility, scalability, and integration into city-wide sanitation, and that this is often not foreseen in planning phases. We thus conclude that sanitation configurations that enable flexibility rather than trying to predict needs may well enable more reliable infrastructure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)364-371
Number of pages8
Issue number3
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Feb 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding information:
Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (The
Swedish Foundation for Humanities and
Social Sciences), Grant/Award Number:
P19-0286:1; Vetenskapsrådet (The
Swedish Research Council), Grant/Award
Number: 2015-03543

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Area published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers).


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