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Seek advice on decommissioning of WaSH infrastructure in camps?

Niall Roche
related country: Malawi
related country: Malawi

I am currently working for UNICEF in southern Malawi which was affected by floods in January 2015. A number of IDP camps are due for decommissioning and I am seeking guidance on how to go about decommissioning the WaSH infrastructure in those camps. Are the specific guidelines to access or are there bits in various publications? Very grateful for any guidance offered. Thanks a million.

4 Answers


I don't know about specific guidelines on the subject though I'm sure someone will point them out if they exist. Any agreements between the UN and a host Government and/or implementing partners may state how movable assets such as vehicles should be dealt with at the end of a project. This may require them to be returned to UNICEF or, with appropriate transfer documentation, given to the Government or implementing partner. WASH infrastructure may not be included as this may have been viewed as non-movable and once installed would stay there forever. Some items such as pumps and generators may be easily removed and should be treated in the same way as movable assets. Some infrastructure may be left in place where it will be of benefit to the host community. The remainder can either be left where it is or demolished. I can still picture lines of brick built toilets standing in a former refugee camp in Zimbabwe after the Mozambicans had been repatriated carrying all the materials from their shelters. It may be appropriate if the funds are available to demolish the superstructure, cover the pit with soil and plant a tree. It is probably not worth digging up pipes though if they do have some residual scrap or re-sale value then the right to do this could be assigned to the host community or relevant Government department.


First, you have flooding in the Shire and Zambezi valleys every 3-5 years. Will the camp be used again and on what time frame.

Some materials can be recovered and recycled. Pipes are often buried at a shallow depth, so they can sometimes be recovered with little effort.

Latrine pits can remain a hazard for years to come. Filling them in is the best approach. Trees planted near latrines often grow well.

Plastic sheeting (for latrine walls etc) is often the biggest problem. It was certainly the biggest problem in Kibeho in Rwanda. Plastics can release dioxins if burned at low temperatures. Burying it may be more appropriate.


Hi Niall, I am the adviser for the Shelter and Camp Management Cluster co-lead in Malawi and have been working closely with UNICEF WASH Cluster coordinator and also have a WASH background. As mentioned above, removal of superstructures and dalles/slabs followed quickly by filling in of pits is best. The pits should be filled to create a domed shape above as they will settle. Be careful to ensure that the pits are not full of very squishy material otherwise there may be a chance of someone casually walking over the mound breaking through and suffering harm. Some of the superstructure materials may then be sterilised and re-used for shelter repairs or for the construction of temporary shelters. Planting trees in pits is another great idea. In my opinion all temporary latrines should be decommissioned in this way but I am aware of an agreement between some UNICEF partners in Zomba and the schools used as collective centres which leaves the temporary latrines in place with a written commitment from the School Council to maintain and decommission the latrines with a safeguard from the UNICEF partner to ensure this is the case. I am using email: coord dot malawi at sheltercluster dot org if you want to communicate further on this or need someone to press UNICEF WASH (in the absence now of Fritz) for advice.


Thanks to those of you who have provided advice on my question. Very helpful indeed.

It seems we will have some camps totally decommissioned, some partially decommissioned and some moved to other locations. Much of the challenge seems to be around the closure of latrines and removal of items that can be reused (like latrine slabs) and the disposal of materials (from the superstructure) that can't be reused. I have been advised elsewhere to use a 0.1% chlorine solution for disinfection of reusable materials. Rubbish pits will have to be filled in and sites restored as much as possible to their original state. As some camps were in schools latrines may be left in place to assist school WaSH and in some locations water infrastructure may be upgraded as a resource left behind for host communities. There was some guidance on decommissioning facilities in Excreta Disposal in Emergencies WEDC 2007 and I also received quite detailed guidance with respect to the decommissioning of facilities in IDP camps in Balochistan, Pakistan produced by the sub-WaSH cluster there.