Emergency Wastewater Disposal


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ESP Engineering Student Design Contest – Emergency Wastewater Disposal – Application Form



For those affected by natural disasters, provision of sanitation is one of the most essential lifesaving activities that can be carried out. Disposing of human waste is complicated under the best of circumstances. When standard pit latrines are not feasible in emergency response due to ground conditions, user preference, or land dispute, sanitation becomes exponentially more complicated. Put simply, the human waste has to go somewhere.

Safe excreta disposal in an acute emergency is largely an unexplored area of emergency response equipment development. Humanitarian agencies are approached weekly with offers for “new” technology for emergency water supply and treatment, but receive few or none concerning the improvement of emergency sanitation services. Recent emergency response operations in Haiti, Pakistan and the Philippines highlighted the challenges with emergency sanitation (no pit latrine or septic tank option, high water tables, flooding etc), and the expected increase of urban disasters illustrate the urgent need to provide more options for sanitation in challenging environments.

As part of the Emergency Sanitation Project (ESP), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is launching a student design contest to source new designs for the safe disposal of human waste. It is hoped that the contest will provide the humanitarian community with new ideas and ways of working in order to tackle a critical problem. We also hope to influence the next generation of engineers to focus on the critical challenge of sanitation, both in emergency response and long term development.

The Problem

Design a system to enable the safe disposal of the human waste collected from latrine pits and septic tanks serving populations between 15 to 20’000 people. Assume 2 litres of human waste per person per day with a 15% solids content. Larger objects may be included in the waste. Assume an open and flat area of about 100 m x 70 m is available for the system and that operation is carried out in a temperature range of 10 – 40 degrees centigrade.

The system should be simple and inexpensive to operate, rapidly operational and be transportable by cargo aircraft. As this is a sytem for the acute emergency phase, the final effluent quality does not need to be high. Anything which reduces the harmful impact of the sludge (including odour, destruction of aquatic life, algae blooms, disease outbreaks, etc.), even a small amount, is welcome. Sludge volume reduction is ideal but not a necessity. Batch or continuous flow treatment and the use of chemical consumables are acceptable. The design should specify the approximate number of staff and the power source necessary for operation as well as an estimate of the running costs (excluding staff salaries). Additional design specifications are included in the application form.

Designs may be modular (i.e. equipment working in parallel in order to be scalable) but the judging criteria (including cost) will be applied at the scale of 15 to 20’000 people.

Designs should assume a centralized design, where waste is collected from a network or individual latrines by vehicle or pipeline and delivered to a dedicated treatment location. The collection system need not be included in the design.

Design entries may focus on part of the problem of safely disposing human waste in emergency response (e.g. large solid removal); however, the highest scoring responses will be those that address a complete solution.

Judging Criteria

Entries will be scored on six criteria

  • Feasibility in emergency
  • Speed of installation
  • Capital cost
  • Operation and maintenance requirements and cost
  • Originality
  • Cost of transport

Tips on a successful entry

  • The more likely the design is able to be carried out to production the higher it will score. Relying on expensive or unproven technology will result in an unsuccessful entry.
  • Have a well-defined, easy-to-understand design that the judges can grasp easily. Include clear schematics and descriptions of installation, operation, and maintenance processes.
  • Focus on solving the problem of human waste in emergency rather than potential side benefits such as use of sludge for agriculture or the production of biogas for energy. Aspects unrelated to reducing health risk and nuisance will not be considered in the scoring.


Ten projects will be selected for final review. These ten semi-finalists will present their design concept to the judging panel.

The two selected finalists will each be awarded an internship, including travel costs to internship location, daily stipend, and accommodation costs for three months, for one person in IFRC’s Geneva Headquarters or an IFRC field office.


The competition is open to undergraduate and graduate students in Bachelors, Masters, or Ph.D. programmes worldwide during the 2013 fall or 2014 spring terms. Entrants must be able to demonstrate that they are enrolled in a certified higher education program during the 2013 fall or 2014 fall terms.

Targeted fields of study: Civil or Environmental Engineering and related disciplines. Students from other disciplines are welcome to apply as well.

Due to the nature of the award for the top two finalists, submissions must be from individuals.


Application forms must be received by 12:00 pm GMT Monday, 3 March 2014. Winners will be announced on April 4, 2014.

How to Apply

The application form is available at the top of this page.

All relevant information must be included in the application form. Cover letters, etc., are not required. The project proposal must be related to the problem statement. A completed application should be completed in English, signed, scanned into PDF Format and sent attached to an e-mail to william.carter@ifrc.org with the subject line: ENGINEERING STUDENT DESIGN CONTEST APPLICATION.

All finalists will also be asked to apply on the Federation’s Internship Registration Page.


When entering the design contest, contestants agree to the following terms and conditions:

  1. A contestant may submit more than one entry but is only eligible for one award. A separate application form is required for each submission.
  2. Due to the nature of the award for the two finalists, submissions must be from individuals.
  3. All personal data provided to the IFRC will be kept confidential.
  4. Contestants agrees that all submitted designs will remain free of patent or copyright, or any other intellectual property rights.
  5. The IFRC is entitled to publish or use the designs freely, but has no obligation to do so. IFRC will recognise the contribution of relevant designs in any future use where appropriate, to be determined in its sole discretion.
  6. The contestant will not be liable for any eventual or potential use of submitted designs.
  7. There is no entry fee for entering the ESP engineering student design competition.
  8. Contestants are responsible for any expenses made in order to submit their application(s).
  9. All entries must be submitted by email using the application form. Entries not meeting the submission requirements may not be judged.
  10. Entries must not exceed 15 pages in length or 15 MB in file size. Instructions within the form may be deleted.
  11. The contestant must be at least eighteen (18) years of age on the date he/she enters the contest.
  12. Immediate family members (spouses, siblings, children and grandchildren) of members of the judging panel for the Emergency Sanitation Project Design Contest are not eligible to enter the contest.
  13. Contestants are responsible for ensuring that submissions are original and unpublished work by the contestant and do not infringe on any copyright or patent laws, or any other intellectual property right laws.
  14. The contest will end on 3 March 2014 at 12:00 p.m. (GMT). Entries submitted after this time will not be eligible. Entries may be modified prior to the contest end date.
  15. The ten semi-finalists will be announced by March 15, 2014. Each semi-finalist will be asked to present their design to the judging panel by phone or video conference.
  16. All ten semi-finalists will also be asked to apply through the Federation’s Internship Registration Page and complete an internship application. The ten semi-finalists must be able to demonstrate that they are enrolled in a certified higher education program during the 2013 fall or 2014 spring terms.
  17. Submissions will be judged by a judging panel determined by the IFRC. Decisions of the judging panel are final and without appeal. The judging panel shall assess the design in the light of the stated “Evaluation Criteria of the Design” and the semi-finalists internship applications against the criteria of the IFRC Internship Policy.
  18. The two selected finalists will each be awarded an internship, including travel costs to the internship location, daily stipend, and accommodation for three months, for one person in IFRC’s Geneva Headquarters or an IFRC field office. Final location of the internships will be determined after the award is announced, but is expected to be completed by 31 August, 2014. The two selected finalists will be required to sign the IFRC Code of Conduct and meet any other relevant requirements prior to beginning the internship.
  19. No transfer or substitution of the award is permitted. If a finalist declines the internship award, there will be no compensation of any kind.
  20. IFRC reserves the right not to grant this award if entries do not sufficiently meet the evaluation criteria of the award, or the semi-finalists do not meet the requirements of the IFRC Internship Policy.
  21. By submitting the application form, contestants agree to release and hold harmless the IFRC from and against any and all claims, expenses and liability including, but not limited to, negligence and damages of any kind to persons and property, infringement of patent or, copyright arising out of, or relating to, their participation in the contest.
  22. Nothing contained in these terms and conditions shall constitute or be deemed a waiver, express or implied, of any of the privileges and immunities of the IFRC.
  23. These terms and conditions are subject to change.

Further Reading:



For additional information contact:
William Carter
Senior Officer, Water, Sanitation and Emergency Health Unit (WatSan/EH)
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
Chemin des Crêts, 17|1209 Petit Saconnex |Geneva|Switzerland
Tel. +41 (0)22 730 4218 Fax +41 (0)22 733 0395| Mob. +41 (0)79 251 8002
Email william.carter@ifrc.org