Nocturnal Latrine Cleaners (And Other Surreal Sanitation Stories)

By Bryan Schaaf on Mardi, avril 8, 2008.
see more topics in:

Former Central Plateau Resident, Professional Archaeologist, and Peace Corps Colleague Dan Broockmann sent in the following story about latrine usage in  Maissade.  2008 has been designated the year of sanitation and latrines are important for public health.  Every Haitian family would like to have one but the cost is prohibitive for many.   And as Dan writes, even latrines need maintenance eventually...

 

Well, my friends, I'm here on the front lines of Haiti's war on bad sanitation (we have a sanitation gap!).  In the pursuit of a better life for members of my community I have been looking into pulling off a large-scale latrine project.  Somewhere in my mind resting under the auspices of supposed intelligence is the demon called curiousity. 

 

 

I am a compulsive tinkerer (as one visit to my house will tell you) and yes MacGyver was my childhood hero (I can still hear the music in my head).  So on the road to trying to write up a latrine project (still in the works) I decided to see if I couldn't find a better type of latrine to serve the people in my area.  The reality of the situation turns out to be yes, but they cost more so the community gets less latrines.  Thus I have settled on the good old fashioned Ventilated Improved Pit (VIP) Latrines.  But all this proves to be simple foreplay (and afterthought) to the amazing discovery that I made in the process of my investigations.

 

 

I was interested (after much reading) in the idea of composting latrines, so I took to the road to determine if this idea was culturally appropriate.  I was very quickly told that using human waste to fertilize crops was indecent and absolutely unthinkable (another idea tossed into the scrap bin of inappropriate technology).  But along the way I began to wonder then what happens to latrines in our area when they fill up.  I have never seen a latrine that has been abandoned in our area.  Do we have an amazing breed of unfillable latrines?  How deep do they dig these things anyway?  Is the upper plateau the most amazing place in Haiti?

 

 

So I began to talk with my neighbors, casually broaching the question of how the latrines around here are usable for so long.  The response was atypically short but carried across the board, "they get cleaned".  So the wheels of my mind begin to whirl and I began to wonder again. Why have I never seen a latrine being cleaned?  Who cleans the latrines?  Where do they put all the crap?

 

 

I brought the problem to my closest friends and most trusted informants here in Mayisad.  Oddly enough even they seemed reticent towards discussion of  the subject.  Finally I broke one of them down and out fell the truth.  "You have to know people."  What?  Know people?  Where am I, New York, Chicago?  The Mafia gets paid to take care of feces?  I thought perhaps I had heard wrong or was having a bad Kreyol day, so I inquired again. 

 

 

The answer came back again, "You have to know people."  It was explained to me that you have to find the middle-man who can work the deal for you, and in Mayisad these people are not generally know to make themselves visible.  Thus you start casually mentioning to your neighbors that you need to have your toilet cleaned and eventually somebody comes to find you.  This is only where the fun begins.

 

 

Once the middle-man has made themselves known to you, the price is negotiated and a date fixed for the latrine cleaning.  All you are told is that you must leave you latrine open, indicate an area where the fecal matter is to be buried, and not to come out of your house if you hear any noise that night (Which makes one wonder if a band of demons will be summoned to exorcise the waste products of you and your family?). 

 

 

When you wake up in the morning your latrine is cleaned out and returned to normal working order (minus the coprolites) and you know not to go digging in the patch of disturbed earth at the back of your property.  Does this awaken the imaginations and fears of anyone else?

 

 

In our midst is a band of people that secretly descend into latrines at night to retire the by-products of our rice and beans diet.  The people with large houses that we have chalked up to family in the States, is it that, or do they belong to the miners of filth (the price for latrine cleaning is not small).  I urge others to inquire into the nature of this phenomenon (if I disapear tell them I will be found in the newly disturbed pile of mud at the back of my neighbor's house).  I feel so alone knowing that they walk among us yet we will never know who they are.

 

Dan Broockmann

Human Waste to Revive Haitian Farmland (10/26/2011)

National Geographic
By Christine Dell'Amore
.
A new type of public toilet is helping people in Haiti make fertilizer from human waste, a project that may someday revive the country's degraded farmland, curb disease, and create jobs. Since 2006 the U.S. nonprofit Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) has been installing public toilets in Haiti, where 80 percent of the population has no access to sanitation. Most Haitians are forced to dispose of their waste in waterways, plastic bags, or even abandoned buildings, according to SOIL. Any existing toilets are often poorly designed, with waste flushing straight into rivers or groundwater. (Related: "World Water Day Focus on Global Sewage Flood.") Such practices mean that human feces easily get into the water supply, which can cause waterborne diseases such as cholera, currently at epidemic levels in the country, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 6,000 people have died and 420,000 have been sickened since cholera broke out in Haiti in October 2010. (Read: "Cholera and Cooperation Play Into Haiti Reforestation.") "Sanitation was the most successful health intervention in the modern world," said SOIL co-founder and soil ecologist Sasha Kramer. But in Haiti, "poop getting into water is the leading cause of death." So far, SOIL has installed ecological toilets in camps of more than 20,000 people left homeless by the 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince. Facilities are also being supplied to 30 communities in northern Haiti. (See "Haiti Earthquake Anniversary: Pictures Show Slow Recovery.")
.
But these aren't just any toilets: Kramer and her colleagues constructed urine-diverting toilets, a type of ecological sanitation in which urine and feces are separated. The waste is then covered with a dry material to aid decomposition and is regularly collected. "With seven billion people on the planet as of this week," Kramer said, "technologies like this are more and more important for addressing the basic rights of a growing population and reducing the negative impact on the earth's ecological systems." Once a week SOIL workers drive through communities in a flatbed truck called the Poopmobile, collecting the toilet drums and replacing them with clean ones The waste is then taken to a composting site outside the city, where workers mix the material with sugarcane bagas—a byproduct of making rum—to speed up the composting cycle. "All the microbes get excited, they start reproducing like crazy," said Kramer, who's also an emerging explorer with the National Geographic Society. (The Society owns National Geographic News.) The activity heats the compost to about 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius). This kills any disease-causing bacteria, which are adapted to the average human body temperature of 98 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius). Workers check the compost temperature every two days, and "by the end of eight months, [we] end up with incredibly nutrient-rich soil," Kramer said. Human waste may even be better than cow feces for compost, she added, since our meatier diets contain more plant-boosting nitrogen. When composted properly to kill pathogens, human waste is a "very rich nutrient source that's quite suitable for growing crops for human consumption," said Serita Frey, a soil microbial ecologist at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. "In the West, we're quite squeamish about use of human waste in general as a fertilizer," Frey said, but "throughout history it's been used in Asia and other parts of the world as a soil amendment." (See "Here's the Scoop: San Francisco to Turn Dog Poop Into Biofuel.")
.
Adding compost to farmland can also improve soil structure and stability, both crucial for preventing erosion, added Frey, who is not affiliated with SOIL. That's because, as bacteria and fungi decompose the material, they produce sticky glues that bind soil particles together to form stable clumps, she said. (See soil pictures.) So far, the Haitian toilet project has yielded more than 100,000 gallons (400,000 liters) of compost, some of which is already being applied to experimental gardens and crops, Kramer said. Some of these gardens are producing vegetables that provide food for residents in Cité Soleil, an extremely poor, densely populated area near Port-au-Prince, said Daniel Tillias, a Haitian community organizer for the peace group Pax Christi Haiti. The rich compost could eventually be used to grow crops and replant trees across the impoverished Caribbean country, where decades of land overuse and deforestation have stripped soils of nutrients and led to widespread erosion. (Read about the decline of Haitian soil in National Geographic magazine.)
.
"We can use something that was useless as a wonderful opportunity," said Tillias, who has volunteered with SOIL and acted as a narrator for an independent film on the project, called Holy Crap! (Watch a video clip from the film on National Geographic's website.) "It's a very good circle—it's a good, positive thing for this neighborhood." Tillias said most people he has worked with have had positive reactions to the toilets, which do not smell. The only negative, he added, is that the facilities are often too popular and can get overcrowded. SOIL's project has another purpose: providing jobs for out-of-work Haitians, especially following the disastrous earthquake. Tillias, for example, has helped coordinate weekly temp jobs for people in Cité Soleil cleaning the public toilets. With "a little funding that SOIL provided, [we can] give a very acceptable wage that many people wanted to have," he said. Beyond providing jobs, however, "the question would be, what is the level of local and community buy-in into the process?" asked Haitian-born Alix Cantave, co-founder of the Haitian Studies Association at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. Though projects such as SOIL's are well intended, "what we have seen over the past 40 years, with all the investment that's been put into Haiti, [there's] very little to show for it," Cantave said. That's mainly because international organizations often fail to build relationships with local entities, and when funding dries up, so does the project.
.
To make a new sanitation initiative last long-term in Haiti, Cantave said, a municipality where the toilets are installed would have to develop a unit within its government office to take on and manage the project. "You're supporting, not leading," he said. That's when "people are engaged, then they can take control and they can own the process." SOIL's Kramer already recognizes this. In "countries that have good sanitation systems, it's never an international organization that's put them in," she said. "It has to be something that comes within the country, because it requires so much ongoing maintenance." To that end, SOIL has a plan: Come up with a solid design for a composting toilet that would work in households and thus get the project going on a small scale in about a hundred Haitian homes. "I could see a model where private businesses provide collection services and the government is either involved in ... running the compost site or purchasing the compost," she said. For example, Haiti's "Ministry of Agriculture would purchase the compost and resell to farmers at a subsidized price they could afford." Then SOIL "would not do any more implementing—[we'd] do more consulting." Community organizer Tillias also believes there could be a big economic opportunity not only for the owners of the toilets but for all Haitians, who can produce compost for local farmers and even export any extra to other countries. In this way, he said, Haiti "could be the country giving the example to the whole world."

Group Seeks Answers to Haiti's Woes in its Toilets

By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
January 4, 2010 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Sasha Kramer was a human rights observer and ecologist when she helped found SOIL. Sasha Kramer was a human rights observer and ecologist when she helped found SOIL.
.
* SOIL facilitates the construction of toilets that compost human waste to be used as fertilizer
.
* Only 30 percent of Haitians have access to clean drinking water, proper sanitation, UNICEF says
.
* Sarah Brownell spurred to help more after friend's son died of "preventable" illness
.
* Villagers: People used bathroom "in the open with everyone watching" before SOIL arrived
.
(CNN) -- It's not often you get away with staking out an ex-president to give him a bag of your, ahem, personal waste. Generally, the Secret Service would get involved. But Sasha Kramer and Sarah Brownell's pursuit of Bill Clinton in Milot, Haiti, in October serves as testament to the young women's moxie. Their organization aims to improve agriculture and sanitation in Haiti via "composting toilets," and it couldn't hurt if the former president took notice, they thought.
.
"I waited by the palace gates, and Sarah went to the soccer field where it was rumored the helicopter would land," Kramer said, explaining that Brownell saw Paul Farmer, Clinton's deputy U.N. special envoy to Haiti, and gave him a bag filled with "beautiful compost from our household sanitation/composting system."
.
"Sarah asked Paul to pass it on to [Clinton] and mentioned that we had 'contributed' to it," Kramer said.
.
Kramer, 33, and Brownell, 34, founders of Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods, are not shy about discussing bodily functions. They can't afford to be squeamish when their plan to improve Haitian life relies so heavily on the comings and goings of human digestion.
Video: Toilets cleaning up Haiti
.
Haiti is the most impoverished nation in the western hemisphere. Plagued with "political violence for most of its history," according to the CIA, the Caribbean island nation has suffered from colonialism, coups and corruption since becoming the first black republic in 1804.
.
More than half of the country lives in "abject poverty." The nation imports more than four times the goods it exports and about two-thirds of the labor force lacks "formal jobs," the CIA reports.
.
SOIL's founders are not dissuaded by the figures because they believe many ills in the nation of 9 million can be traced to public sanitation and the dirt's lack of nutrients. Disease is rampant, and it's still common for children to die from fecal contamination in the water. UNICEF estimates that 70 percent of Haitians do not have access to "safe drinking water and adequate sanitation."
.
Meanwhile, the International Conference on Reforestation and Environmental Regeneration of Haiti states the nation once enjoyed 60 percent forest cover but now possesses less than 1 percent of its trees.
.
"With the forest cover gone, floods ravage the country at each rainfall. Topsoil washes into the sea. And since the only hope of Haitians for feeding their families is the soil and small-scale farming, it is a terrible humanitarian disaster," the conference wrote in 2007. Members of Youth for the Development of Shada clean a toilet built in their community. Members of Youth for the Development of Shada clean a toilet built in their community. Bos Tony of Shada says people used the bathroom over an estuary before SOIL had a toilet built.
Bos Tony of Shada says people used the bathroom over an estuary before SOIL had a toilet built.
.
The solutions are as interconnected as the problems in Kramer's and Brownell's minds. The ecologist and the engineer have arranged the construction of scores of special toilets in villages across northern Haiti.
.
"You get the poop out of the water and get it into the food again," Kramer explained. Granted, it sounds gross, but Kramer and Brownell operate their own "dry toilet" at their home in Cap-Haitien. The fertilizer for their personal garden comes from the composting pit on their roof -- the same pit that produced the sample for Clinton.
.
There are variations on the toilets, but the general idea is to separate the liquid and solid wastes. The "liquid gold" is diluted and used on fruit trees, Kramer said. Handfuls of sugarcane bagasse are added to the solid waste to expedite the composting process and to ward off flies and odors. The solid waste is stored until it can be collected (some toilets store up to 600 gallons) and transported to a composting site where it will sit for a year until it's free of organisms. Kramer said SOIL hopes to sell its first load of fertilizer within weeks.
.
Education is important as well, Kramer said, noting that when she asks Haitian farmers what they use as fertilizer, they reply, "God waters our gardens with rain, and that's all we've got for fertilizer."
.
SOIL also has to convince villagers to tear down unsanitary toilets. Such was the case recently in Shada, where villagers had constructed toilets over an estuary. "We were forced to go to the bathroom in the estuary or in the open with everyone watching," Shada resident Bos Tony said in Creole with Kramer translating. "Now we have a cleaner place to go to the bathroom. We feel more comfortable now."
.
Brownell, who has an environmental engineering master's from the University of California-Berkeley, first went to Haiti in 1998 to install solar panels at a health clinic in Le Borgne. The panels didn't arrive for two months. "I was hanging around with not really any project to do, and I really felt like the community took me in, took care of me, even though I didn't really have much to offer them at that point," Kramer said.
.
She studied Creole and practiced crocheting, cooking and washing clothes by hand. The Haitians made fun of her ineptitude at the latter task, Brownell said, so she spent time "trying to perfect my skills" as her instructor's 2-year-old son, Jeffrey, toddled around the washbasin.
.
Brownell eventually finished the solar panel project and returned to school at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. When she went back to Haiti two years later, she learned that Jeffrey had died of diarrhea and dehydration -- a death Brownell calls "totally preventable" if Jeffrey had simply had access to clean water and safe place to use the bathroom. ..the most prevalent human rights abuse is really poverty and the fact that people didn't have access to their basic needs.
.
"This was something that really touched my heart as a way for me to use engineering to make that connection with the social aspect of helping people to live their lives better," Brownell said.
.
Kramer, who studied "nitrogen cycles" while earning her doctorate at Stanford University, is a human rights observer first drawn to Haiti's political movements. She met Brownell at a Mexican restaurant in Berkeley in 2005 and quickly found common threads in their interests.

"Even with the all of these acute human rights violations that were happening in Haiti at the time," explained Kramer, "the most prevalent human rights abuse is really poverty and the fact that people didn't have access to their basic needs like food, sanitation and water."
.
They founded SOIL in 2006 and wrote the bylaws while driving from upstate New York, from where they both hail, to Miami, Florida, in a truck donated to SOIL by Kramer's parents.
.
Toilets are one example of SOIL's outreach. The group also holds contests urging children to recycle garbage into something useful and Brownell's husband, Kevin Foos, spearheads a photo empowerment project called "Looking Through Their Eyes," which allows children to capture what they love and hate about their communities on film.
.
SOIL also supports special centers in Shada, Milot and Le Borgne where Haitians can present and test technologies for improving their health, environment and economic independence.
.
Villagers warmly welcome Kramer and Brownell, and SOIL's efforts have caught the attention of Haitian musicians BélO and Rosemond Jolissaint. The founders hope to draw more attention to their endeavors because budget woes are a frequent concern -- hence their pursuit of Clinton. Kramer said she doesn't know if Clinton's deputy delivered SOIL's gift, but given her weighty ambitions, her optimism is not surprising.
.
"We chased the delegation on motorcycle from the palace to the soccer field," she said. "Rumor has it that someone saw [Clinton] getting off the helicopter in Labadi with the bag over his arm."

Bayakou

Your mysterious faecal faeries are called bayakou. When you get into the city they are less discreet and you can see them wading with shovels and buckets shoulder deep in excrement. FYI composting latrines take education but once people see and smell the end product and you have shown them the soil testing to show there are no cysts, folks become big converts.

Sanitation Links

If you want to learn more about the relationship between public health and sanitation, check out thse links:

http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/en/index.html

http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/sanitation/en/index.html

Poster un nouveau commentaire