Towards brown gold: Safe and sustainable sanitation in the small towns of Asia and Africa

Project Details


Brown Gold seeks to re-imagine sanitation in rapidly urbanising parts of Asia and Africa to help address the sanitation crisis and improve the well-being of poor and vulnerable women and men, and marginalised communities including migrants, sanitation workers and refugees.

It combines social science, law, engineering, microbiology and creative arts, to address the challenge of sustainable and safely managed sanitation in rapidly growing ‘off-grid’ urban areas in Ethiopia, Ghana, India and Nepal. Its starting point is to re-frame ‘shit’, a polluting and harmful waste product to be disposed of, as ‘brown gold’, a resource rich in water, nutrients and organic compounds, that can make a real contribution to the development of sustainable cities.

Rather than focusing on the visible aspects of being on-grid in terms of hardware, toilet connections, and treatment systems, its focus is on the invisible and dangerous aspects of being off-grid. This includes invisible and powerless citizens who are denied their basic right to sustainable sanitation as well as the invisible flows of dangerous pathogens due to poor toilets and unsafe containment of shit and wastewater.

The aim is to rethink and reimagine these off-grid situations as a fertile ground for people-centred, sustainable and equitable innovation. Faecal sludge is rich in water, nutrients and organic compounds, but usually this resource remains hidden in the sludge.

Key findings

It is hoped that reimagining the problem creates not just the possibility for new innovation in delivering good quality sanitation services but that it also promotes circular-economy driven sustainable sanitation to encourage resource recovery and reuse in informal settlements – turning ‘shit’ to biogas or fertilizer for example. The creation of these sustainable economic opportunities will hopefully in turn lift the status of the sanitation workers and excluded residents in informal settlements.
Short titleBrown Gold
Effective start/end date1/04/2030/09/24


  • Sanitation
  • Risk
  • Off-Grid
  • Health
  • Community


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