A powerful earthquake hit the city of Bam in southeast Iran on 26 December 2003. In its aftermath, a number of international relief agencies, including Oxfam, assisted in providing emergency sanitation services. Oxfam's programme consisted of constructing and repairing toilets and showers in villages located outside of the city. In contrast with other organisations, Oxfam opted for brickwork structures, using local materials and human resources rather than prefabricated cubicles. The choice illustrates the dilemmas faced by agencies involved in emergency sanitation: responding to needs in a manner consistent with international standards and offering assistance in a timely fashion while involving beneficiaries. Following a preliminary survey, Oxfam concluded that the provision of showers and latrines, in addition to utilisation of local materials and human resources, was essential for ensuring well-being, empowerment and dignity among members of the affected population, thereby maximising the benefits.