An emergency latrine in the Qayyarah Airstrip Emergency Site, Iraq. Neil Thompson/DRC

Everyone needs a place to “go”

Most take toilets for granted, but have you thought of what its like for people living in refugee camps?


By Anna Banyard, WASH Coordinator with DRC Iraq

The subject might make you a bit squeamish, but take a second to understand how millions around the world experience something we all do every day.

Have you ever found yourself desperate to locate the nearest toilet? Yes, it is not a topic we like to talk about, but the fact is everyone...goes.

Now imagine that desperate feeling and realizing there is no toilet at all – not in your home, not in your neighbourhood, nor in your whole town. Imagine there are no clean, private toilets, no lights after dark, and no protection from the elements; the weather, insects and animals. No safety, no locked doors, no preservation of dignity and no guarantee that human waste will not end up making you, your family, or your neighbours sick due to different illnesses.


Open defecation – or, going outside – poses a serious health hazard to millions of people around the world every year. Germs can be easily spread from faeces to flies, hands, food, and other surfaces and when they enter our bodies, the results can potentially be deadly.

In Iraq, many sanitation struggles stem from the recent conflict that has forced people to flee their homes at a moment’s notice and leave behind certain amenities and comforts, like safe and sanitary toilets. 

When we are out in nature, open defecation can sometimes take place by bushes, trees, in forests and other open spaces – like when we go camping. However, in rural communities or urban environments without clean, accessible toilets, people can be forced “to go” on the pavement, in alleyways, or on roadsides causing serious public health issues.


The Danish Refugee Council and its’ partners are working to install toilets in camps and informal sites across Iraq where displaced families seek refuge from violence. Emergency sanitation facilities like toilets help to provide a safe, healthy and dignified space for personal hygiene needs without the fear and dangers that link to open defecation.

People desperate for a safe space have tried to put together rudimentary toilets using scrap metal, wood, and blankets to create privacy, however, these types of latrines do not meet basic standards in addition to long queues to use limited facilities, adding to issues of safety and sanitation. Women and children are especially vulnerable to instances of gender-based violence in these situations.

With support from the Iraq Humanitarian Fund (IHF), DRC is working to install toilets to provide secure and dignified spaces for displaced families’ daily needs and promote safe sanitation practices in difficult environments through community-led hygiene awareness campaigns.