OCTOPUS, the first collaborative platform that is revolutionizing emergency humanitarian practices!

OCTOPUS (Operational Collaborative Tool of Ongoing Practices in Urgent Sanitation) represents a technological innovation for WASH[1] experts. It allows the sharing of practices and experiences coming directly from the field. Developed by the NGO Solidarités International, the OCTOPUS collaborative platform is specialized in the formalization and centralization of knowledge on faecal sludge disposal and treatment, a complex issue in emergency contexts. This online tool will allow the different actors to compare technologies and discuss solutions adapted to the different crises.

A real need in the field

The lack of information and knowledge of the areas of intervention is one of the main difficulties in defining and implementing humanitarian responses. In recent decades, NGO WASH expertise has increased and emergency humanitarian response to latrine construction has reached very high levels of control. However, some links in the sanitation chain, particularly sludge treatment, seem to lag behind the expected level of expertise.

“It remains extremely complex to consider all links in the sanitation chain from the early stages of an emergency response.”Aude Lazzarini, head of the WASH division of Solidarités International.

In 2013, the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF)[2] initiated a gap analysis in the field of WASH in emergency contexts. One of the main problems identified was the management and disposal of faecal sludge. Despite the existence of extensive documentation on this topic, sludge treatment does not always translate into quality interventions in practice. The main problem remains the random aspect of faecal sludge management. Practitioners must choose from a multitude of existing techniques, the one that will be most appropriate for the context in which they find themselves, taking into account many parameters. This choice in the middle of an emergency situation is therefore very complex to establish.

Poor faecal sludge management can have a catastrophic impact on health and the environment. If sludge is not properly treated before it is discharged, it may still contain too many pathogens that can transmit diseases or have a negative impact on the fauna and flora surrounding the discharge area. It is therefore important to think about the different links in the sanitation chain (collection, evacuation and treatment) from the early stages of emergency response.

The genesis of the project and its management in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh

In August 2017, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled Myanmar, escaping violence in Rakhine State. The majority crossed the border into Bangladesh, into the Cox’s Bazaar region. They then took refuge in informal camps or were welcomed into neighbouring Bangladeshi communities. Very quickly, the scale of the crisis led to significant needs for sanitation and faecal sludge treatment.

Emptying process in Bangladesh ©Solidarités International

It is under these conditions that the OCTOPUS platform emerged. The NGO BORDA (Bremen Overseas Research and Development Association) began with field research work. The objective of this analysis was to understand the levers, motivations and obstacles that underlie the initial decision-making of practitioners when developing a sanitation project. It turned out that the lack of coordination and lack of knowledge of the context were the first obstacles to good sludge treatment in the first months of emergency response. To overcome these problems, Solidarités International then considered a relevant format to disseminate practices and guidelines in this area. The idea of having an online collaborative platform then emerged and tested on the crisis in Cox’s Bazaar.

Sludge transport, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, 2017. ©Solidarités International

Centralize information in a collaborative way

The only way that offers any hope of a better future for all humanity is through cooperation and partnership.”Kofi Annan, UN General Assembly – 24 September 2001

Building a bridge between practice and theory is what the name of OCTOPUS symbolizes perfectly. It was necessary to create a means of exchange between practitioners on these themes and to create a memory of good practices acquired according to crises and contexts so that they could be reused by all. The online platform allows each sanitation practitioner to document their experiences and discover technologies developed by other partners.

The objectives of the platform:

  • Sharing best practices
  • Document and contextualize the specificities of different intervention areas
  • Enable better decision-making in emergency situations
  • Compare, learn and improve practices in the field
Plan of a sludge treatment system, Bangladesh ©Solidarités International

How does the pooling process work in an emergency context?

When a crisis occurs, a National WASH Cluster is set up and creates a technical working group on sanitation. This group therefore meets regularly to coordinate and discuss the issues and difficulties encountered in the context of the intervention. At this level, the OCTOPUS platform allows practitioners working on faecal sludge management to document their action according to a common framework including many indicators to be reported. The global community can then comment and contribute new ideas. Indeed, it is likely that other practitioners who have used similar techniques in other crisis contexts with, for example, different materials, can thus share their experience on the platform. Comparison tables will be made available to compare parameters such as costs or time to completion. At the end of the process, key lessons and conclusions will be drawn and capitalized for future crises (see Learning Cycle Diagram).

The important thing in the learning cycle is the sharing of good and bad practices. It is necessary to document what is being done. A practitioner should not be afraid to talk about his failures, about what has worked and what has not. Talking about failures or less successful experiences is taboo among humanitarian workers. OCTOPUS is therefore also part of a change in practices and mentalities.” Emma Maisonnave, Learning Officer of Solidarités International

Learning cycle diagram ©Solidarités International

A tool in full expansion with many possibilities!

“What we are trying to do with OCTOPUS is to improve the quality of humanitarian EHA responses!” Aude Lazzarini, head of the EHA division of Solidarités International

Funded by HIF, this collaborative platform is expected to become a reference source on faecal sludge disposal and treatment in the humanitarian environment. From next May, the Global WASH Cluster and Oxfam will join the adventure by becoming the new partners of the platform. They will form a consortium with Solidarités International, thus allowing the formation of an EHA lead with the aim of setting up learning processes in the field. Together, these three organizations will work to develop data collection processes and develop this tool in the field for future crises that generate high sanitation needs.

Entirely in English, soon to be available in other languages, and easy to use, the platform is accessible to everyone. It also offers the opportunity to discover other initiatives in the sanitation sector, such as the SuSanA (Sustainable Sanitation Alliance) network.

This type of participatory and collaborative tools makes it possible to meet a fundamental humanitarian need in terms of coordination. In the long term, OCTOPUS could even extend to broader EHA themes, such as the construction of latrines and become a flagship tool for EHA clusters!

“Why not one day even open the platform to other sectors than sanitation!” Emmanuelle Maisonnave, Learning Officer of Solidarités International.

To discover the OCTOPUS platform: https://octopus.solidarites.org/

Aude Lazzarini, Head of the EHA division of Solidarités International
Emmanuelle Maisonnave, Learning Officer of Solidarités International
Sarah Boisson, editor for Défis Humanitaires


[1] Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, referring to Sustainable Development Objective 6.

[2] Humanitarian Innovation Fund. This fund is managed by the global charity Elrha, which works to find solutions and innovations to complex humanitarian problems. More information on : https://www.elrha.org/