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Designing a standard sewage network for refugee camps (monacivilengineering.blogspot.com)
126 points by mhasbini 32 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 40 comments

There seem to be ‘standards’ as to how to build out refugee camps and SOP for various things:

* https://emergency.unhcr.org/entry/45581

* https://emergency.unhcr.org/about

* https://spherestandards.org/handbook/

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refugee_camp

Even the humble tarp that meets these standards is more ‘advanced’ than it appears:

* https://www.wired.com/2016/01/tarpaulin/

We used these camps standards to design the sewage system and of course to draw and design the standard camps.

For how the US Army does this, see Field Manual 3-34-471, "Plumbing, Pipe Fitting, and Sewerage", especially the sections on "Field Expedient Systems."[1] The Army has been building camps for a while.

[1] https://www.constructionknowledge.net/public_domain_document...

Good information... But Our project is based on a sewage network for a standard camp.

If I read the pipe maps correctly, it seems that the focus of the camp layout is on the sewage treatment facility, which is literally the center of the camp.

In my opinion, the center of the camp has prominence of place, and should be rather a social center of some kind: gathering place, daycare, school, workshops, communal kitchen, sports facilities, something like that.

A camp that elevate sewage treatment above all other concerns could be a grim place indeed. I imagine it should be possible to have an efficient, standardized sewage system that locates the physical plant off in a more discreet place

Intelligent comment, the layout 2 has the problem that you are talking about as the sewage is located in the center of the camp, but the layout 1 has a better design as it is half a circle and the sewage could be treated away from the tents accommodation and other activities.

Yes... except that with the semi circular layout, the sewage treatment is still in the only prominent place in the camp. All roads lead to the plant. If the city were an auditorium, the plant is squarely on stage. That should still be the place where people gather socially

I just recorded a voice memo this morning with an inspired idea related to this. Water in a box, pee into the box, poop into compost bags, collect and restock weekly. I’ve done manual labor digging trenches, working with construction, all that. Also been homeless for 2 yrs in SF/SV for what it’s worth, doing said work (do not have resources for coding interviews, trying to save). With compostable or washable containers, I have no idea why one would make a sewage system in a camp. Being a (former) engineer as well, I can appreciate the thought put into it.

For this kind of application, I'm a big fan of this idea [1] (there is a more recent example of something similar out of the UK but I can't find it now). It uses a mechanical "flush" mechanism that basically just individually bags the waste and stashes it below the toilet. When full, the bags are pulled out (themselves in a bigger bag) and just taken to the dump. A great alternative to building custom sewer and treatment infrastructure. There are examples of this kind of tech being used in places (e.g Antananarivo that has slaves that flood regularly) that don't have or cannot easily get sewers installed.

[1] https://www.bizjournals.com/triangle/blog/2013/12/entreprene...

From the article, it costs $1 per use. And ends with plastic bags full of (maybe sterilized) human waste being thrown in the trash. This is a solution to what exactly? A lack of Toilet as a Service products?

> A lack of Toilet as a Service products?

Exactly! What do you think a sewer system is? It it literally a subscription to having your poo taken away, by a method requiring huge capital costs, major maintenance, a monopoly operator, etc. It is a concept with lots of room for exploring alternatives.

Dumps are able to handle human waste. That's where diapers go.

$1 seems way too high for plastic, that would definitely come down with volume and competition. You can buy plastic bags in the store for $0.10 each easily.

This same approach is used in fully developed areas for things like outdoor schools for kids. Another variant in the more luxury area is boat rentals, using the heads here can result in unpleasant smells for later users even if holding tanks are pumped - you basically put a special bag with a cat litter like substance into the actual toilet, then when you hit the dock you take the bigger bag out (if more than one use).

Bottom line, less is more and leverage solutions that have demonstrated actual market traction. A lot of stuff geared towards the poor has no market in the paying world for a reason - it's crap (no pun intended).

Perhaps there is a human manure angle that gets missed with these other approaches, and they may be more resource intensive in terms of plastic?

I think you were thinking of this: https://www.loowatt.com/

Why not an elevated latrine over a wheeled removable storage tank that hooks to a pickup truck?

Thanks for sharing this! I enjoyed reading about the different types of campes.

I wonder how self-suistainble wrt to cost can it be? Similar to water recycling in ths ISS

In the camp, we can add a UDDT to reduce the amount of sewage and to help the recycling process. This will not have a big cost. other recycling methods could also be used.

It seems outhouses every block would be a much more simple and economical design. They just require vertical excavation, which can be done by hand if space is constrained but labor is available. When the camp is dismantled (hopefully everyone is resettled quickly) then you just fill it in with dirt.

The durability of the infrastructure should be informed by how long the camps tend to exist. My first result is a world bank[1] blog that says it's about 17 years. So a more automated system like plumbing would probably save resources over the long term, but who ever thinks about long term costs of infrastructure for refugees?

[1] https://blogs.worldbank.org/dev4peace/2019-update-how-long-d...

17 years is much longer than I would have expected. Long term thinking is a good point.

> In the design, the slopes of the drainage pipes and the velocity constraints are selected in a way to have minimum excavation depths, and to have the flow velocity within its design ranges.

I guess that the goal is to make it cost effective. To dig deeper that the strictly necessary would add durability that a temporary camp does not need and a lot of extra cost.

It would have been nice to know the advantages and disadvantages of each camp design. But, I guess that it was not inside the scope of designing the sewage.

Yes of course! It is found out that the circular design layout would be more economic than the hexagon design layout. Although, the circular design has less accommodation area than the latter one. On the other hand, if there is enough land to set up these camps, it would be better to choose the Hexagon design layout as it is more spacious and allow the use of more service facilities.

Nice documentation of your use of standards and industry tools. In that way you're ready for professional practice.

Collection design appears appropriate, however an outfall location was not selected?

Collection system design is dependent on topography, do you have elevation data for proposed camp sites? Topography can inform your treatment site and outfall selection.

We have chosen the outfall to be in the middle of the circle and hexagonal sewage network. Yes of course, the topography should be first of all determined, this is what we did in the Zaatari camp design. We used Global Mapper to find the elevations, then we determined the outlet (lowest point).

One might think that the UNHCR should have experts on hand who have ready made designs for sewage, water and electricity in refugee camps, but then one looks at the horrors of Moria and the other "camps" in Greece.

It is utterly shameful that people in need depend on volunteers taking care of such basic needs. Thanks, OP.

The UNHCR wants to move the refugees to destination countries and the local (and national) politicians want the camps gone. The inhabitants of these camps don't want to be there either. None of these groups want the camps to be permanent, so you can see that this type of solution is not wanted or desired. There is a perverse incentive to make the camps "bad" but not "too bad."

Original author here: Yes of course, no one wants that the refugee camps be permanent, but as we can see, the camps are used at least for 5 to 10 years, and this is a long period so the sewage network is one of the most important needs to have in these camps that the people could have a safe life there.

In addition, this project could be also used for any type of camp.

I have done this project to help the UNHCR and any other association that is responsible for refugee camps.

Who knows more about the tent design shown in figure 15. This looks super versatile, but also hard to repair, build in a factory setting and maybe also unintuitive to set up. I hope this is more useful than it looks. Then it would be great to have such a tent with built in AC and water management.

Very interesting.

I wonder if it then makes sense to run additional services such as power and drinking water parallel to those pipes for similar efficiency?

I wonder if camping festivals and conferences such as CCC camp would benefit from this at all?

Original author here: yes of course, this project should be improved and many other additional services wil be added. I will also study a camp with UDDT to have a less amount of sewage. The camps in my project contain free areas for agriculture, in addition to a school , a police station, and markets so the camp could be 90% independent.

This project could be applied for any camp. It is basically studied to be applied for refugees camps as they most need it, but it could be used for any camp that has a big amount of sewage.

You should see if you can reach out to the Chaos Computer Club for their Camp conference (in theory, running next in 2023). The distribution of utilities throughout their campsite is quite a logistical challenge. I think your work also assumes a nice flat wide open space that you can work with, whereas in that specific scenario there's other obstacles in the way.

Anyway, really cool. Thanks! :)

CCC Camp infrastructure is special, and fun, and definitely a great source of real-world experience. The various infra teams now have a decades of experience scaling it up - water, power, waste, internet, each coming with its own set of challenges. The event is full of engineers, such that the level of overengineering increases year by year - last camp, one team even brought and manned industrial dishwashers as a public service! Same goes for similar non-profit events that build their own infra rather than contracting it out to an expensive events company.

Constraints are very different, obviously - the ground can't be dug up, public toilets and washing stations are sufficient, there's some existing infrastructure to partially rely on, and it only has to work for at most ~2 weeks or so. Still, many of the "lessons learned" could be applicable elsewhere and I wish there was time to document more of it.

What is the lowest temperature the studied project’s environment would experience?

How viable is this in colder climates?

Also, great write up!

In this project, PVC pipes are used. These pipes are in danger of freezing when surrounding temperatures are nearly 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

PVC pipes get brittle in cold weather and fracture where they freeze.... A low voltage, 120-degree or less, should be installed as an internal pipe heater to keep it from freezing.

  This project could be applied for any camp
It's a pity this wasn't available for the Fyre Festival organisers. ;)

I’m not an expert, yet… But my habit has become: anytime you spend the time and effort to put any conduit in the ground… Put four more in.

I have never been anything but happy and relieved that I have done this.

Pipe is cheap. Digging is not.

Edit: Do not put drinking water lines and sewage lines in the same trench.

Yes this is the case of buildings sewage system where the population increases each year. But in case of camps, we don't have a big flow, and the pipes used are the smallest in size.

Very Nice project and a very smart engineer, good luck!

Thank you dear Aya :).

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