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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

From toilet to table, overcoming the ‘yuk’ factor

Human excrement spread by poor sanitation was to blame for over 9,000 cholera deaths in Haiti, but now, thanks to a simple measure to transform it into nutrient-rich compost, cleanliness has improved - and some enterprising Haitians are able to grow their own fresh food.

Chili pepper
The use of eco toilets not only is preventing diseases by improving sanitation but it could also help the country's food security in the long term, too

Like an oasis in the middle of the desert, Frantz Francois' garden is probably the greenest area in Cite Soleil, the biggest slum in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas.
In an area where it is hard to find even a tree, Francois grows carrots, peppers and callaloo - a leafy vegetable traditionally used for soups - in his garden.
But it was not easy for him to tempt his neighbours to eat them, as he uses human waste as a fertiliser - something of a taboo in these parts.
Leafy crops using human waste as compost
It took a while before Haitians started to appreciate crops grown in the human waste fertiliser
At the beginning some people said they didn't want to eat food from this garden because it was grown in the soil from the toilets," says Francois.
Things started to change when he got his first harvest. Neighbours saw the vegetables and they spread the word. Little by little, the residents are getting over the taboo.
"Now when they see how the plants grow, they realise there's no contamination and everyone in Cite Soleil would like to have a garden like this for themselves," he says.
Open latrineFrantz Francois runs an urban garden that uses compost from eco-friendly toilets, a system promoted by SOIL, an NGO that aims to improve sanitation in Haiti.
When SOIL was founded back in 2006, only 4% of the rural population had access to proper toilets. Even in the capital Port-au-Prince it was only slightly higher at 6%, according to SOIL's co-founder Baudeler Magloire.
Many toilets which do exist often flush untreated waste straight into rivers or groundwater.
Open defecation in the streets led to the spread of disease.
After the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people and left 1.5 million living in temporary camps, poor sanitation caused a health crisis.
Cholera, a disease transmitted by drinking water or eating food contaminated by the faeces of an infected person, broke out later that year killing more than 9,000 people.
When cholera struck SOIL had already taken composting toilets to different parts of the country, but the fatal disease proved a setback.
Eco-friendly toilet
                               These toilets are, at the same time, preventing diseases and saving lives in                           vulnerable, displaced communities
At first glance, an eco toilet doesn't look too different from a portable toilet. The difference is inside.
Faeces and urine are collected in separate drums and, after each use, a layer of sawdust-like material made from sugar cane waste and peanut shells is added on top. This reduces the risk of infection and masks unpleasant odours.
From BBC News-Health


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