Nine million people and not a single sewage treatment plant. Hard to believe, but this is the case. Those who have enough money get their sewage pumped out by a truck which dumps it into an unlined field near Port-Au-Prince. The excrements from all others are left to wither in pit toilets: holes dug in families yards, schools, markets and the like, perhaps topped by a block and tin structure to preserve some dignity. Much of the country has a water table as close as a few feet below the surface. It is then inevitable that the urine and feces contaminate the very water sources from which wells draw, water which is used to clean clothes, wash food, and for the most unfortunate, drink. These pit toilets are rarely if ever accompanied by a proper station for which to wash hands. In fact, maintaining proper hygiene is a tremendous challenge for the Haitian poor.
All-Hands is working in conjunction with the UNICEF-led WASH Cluster (WAter, Sanitation and Hygiene). This cluster is a coordinated effort composed of UN agencies, the Red Cross, international organizations and NGOs. We are taking part in efforts to provide Haitians with the infrastructure- both physical and social- so that they can have access to the basic human right which is clean water, and the dignity and health intrinsic to proper waste management and good hygiene.
Specifically, we are building composting toilets. Rather than rely on a septic tank which might contain the waste but require costly removal, composting toilets separate urine and feces and ultimately produce a compost which is valuable for agriculture. After each use of these toilets, some organic material such as saw dust or crushed banana leaves are dropped into the receptacle to cover the feces and enable the composting process to occur. All-Hands has built these toilets at four locations so far: two schools, a housing complex and an NGO operations base. Funding is in the works to build at least 20 more. The toilets are complemented by proper hand washing stations and biosand filters which provide clean drinking water. It is hoped that by building these facilities in community centers such as schools, and educating the users on proper sanitation, the message and the practices will be taken home. A further phase is the replacement of the pit latrines at Haitian homes with less complex but equally effective composting toilets (take a peep at this impressive website where you learn how to build a composting toilet for $25).
I have started working on this All-Hands program when I’m not working on the construction of the school foundations. The group is looking for me to develop a design for the toilets which will be quicker and cheaper to build (they currently take a couple of weeks and cost between $2000 and $3000). This is a task which I embrace with vigour. In light of the recent outbreak of cholera in a part of the country, the need is more apparent than ever.