Water Engineering and Development Centre

Lighting for safer sanitation

WEDC staff involved: Julie Fisher; Brian Reed

Funded by: Humanitarian Innovation Fund     Value: £27,000

Location: Uganda, Iraq and Nigeria                Duration: 2017-2018     

Summary of project activities

Camps are places of refuge for people fleeing conflict and disaster, but they can be dangerous, especially for women and girls. In their first months, many camps rely on communal sanitation facilities – a quick and cost-effective way of meeting immediate needs and minimizing public health risks until a better solution can be developed.

In 2016, the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) set up a research challenge asking: Does lighting in or around sanitation facilities reduce the risk of gender-based violence (GBV)? During 2017 and 2018, Oxfam and researchers from WEDC carried out research to try to answer this question.

The research included three field studies in camps in Iraq, Nigeria and Uganda as well as eight brief case studies on lighting in camps. The full research process included a literature review, detailed reports on the three field studies, and the eight case studies. The analysis from all this research was consolidated into a single report that also makes recommendations for humanitarian workers in areas of public health, lighting and reducing gender-based violence.

The field research was conducted by carrying out a baseline study in each location using a digital survey, focus groups discussions and key informant interviews, followed by the introduction of lighting: solar wall lamps in Iraq, Lamp posts in Uganda, and hand-held solar lights in Nigeria. A final endline study sought to identify the impact of lighting on safety in the camp, and specifically fears around gender-based violence when using sanitation facilities.

Summary of project outcomes and impact

Project outcomes

The overall focus of the research was on whether lighting can reduce risks of GBV. Unsurprisingly, we have concluded that it takes more than lighting to reduce GBV risks. What is clear, however, is that lighting will only ever be one part of a GBV reduction strategy, and that multiple other simultaneous, well-coordinated actions are needed to effectively reduce risk.

Women and girls’ fear of GBV is worryingly high in camps, especially in the initial stages when there is little sense of community and governance structures have not been fully established. Despite this, camp residents have strong ideas about what can be done to improve safety. Ongoing community engagement with all sub-sections of a camp population is critical to ensure good-quality humanitarian action, to uphold the dignity of those in crisis and to respect their agency and capacity to improve their own situation. This needs to go beyond ‘listening’ to include taking action and making changes in response to community feedback.
What our research does show is the surprisingly high extent to which communal latrines are not being used, both in the daytime and more so after dark, by women and men, and the reasons which link this to fears of GBV. Again and again, the factors interlink – a poor location with inadequate separation of facilities by sex combined with poor build quality and/or repair and maintenance leads women and girls to see sanitation facilities as risky places, especially after dark. None of these factors are unknown – they have all been recognized in the existing humanitarian quality standards. This research reinforces the existing knowledge, but the question we really need to ask is: why are we so consistently unable to meet these standards and what can we do immediately to start rectifying the problem? Lack of funding, capacity, resources and technical expertise clearly all play a part and must be urgently addressed.


This project was one of Oxfam’s largest lighting projects and has strongly influenced how the humanitarian sector does lighting in camps. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is running the lamp post pipeline and any agency using these is obliged to follow this project guidance on community-based lighting.
Find out more from the final report and at https://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/our-work/humanitarian/sanitation-lighting-and-gbv?cid=rdt_lighting and https://www.elrha.org/project-blog/lighting-up-the-lives-of-rohingya-refugees/