Closing the Loop between Sanitation and Food Security for the ´Base of the Pyramid´
June 9, 2011 – If consumers in the advanced Western economies have a hard time swallowing the idea of drinking water recycled from sewage, that may be nothing compared with what those in the Philippines have to go through when they consider eating foods raised from fertilizer recycled from human wastes.
But that´s exactly what a local foundation based in the boondocks of Mindanao has been advocating, and is now actively looking for “technology off-takers” who are willing to partner with them to literally ´close the loop´ by recycling human wastes as fertilizers for agricultural use in food production.
“There are more than 20 million Filipinos suffering the indignities and health hazards of not having access to proper sanitation,” said Dan Lapid, president/executive director of the Center for Advanced Philippine Studies.
Water, Agroforestry, Nutrition and Development (WAND) Foundation, a local NGO that promotes social development via ecological sanitation (EcoSan), aims to close the gap in the country´s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly in the proportion of the population using an improved sanitation facility.
Dr. Elmer Sayre, in-house consultant, said WAND´s project aims to address the sanitation needs of the “base of the pyramid” (BoP): households too poor to buy their own toilets, those in remote areas not reached by government services, those with inadequate or no access to clean potable water, and those in conflict and/or disaster-hit areas.
National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Region 10 statistics show a slow uptake in this regard especially in the rural areas where the proportion of the population using improved sanitation facilities over the last decade hardly approached the target reduction of 50 percent from 2000 (59%) to 2008 (69%).
“EcoSan promotes the safe reuse of human urine and feces as fertilizer, a key feature in sustainable sanitation. If distributed widely and used adequately, it can greatly advance our efforts in trying to meet our MDG target for sanitation by 2015.”
Present sanitation systems based on the flush-pour toilet as the main technology operate on the premise that human wastes are better off disposed. But it is not effective in areas where there is no water or where septage is difficult to build as in slums or flooded zones.
In contrast, EcoSan has addressed sanitation issues in a sustainable manner by using dry or waterless toilets and recycling and reusing nutrients in human wastes in a hygienic way rather than disposing them where they can contaminate groundwater aquifers, rivers and seas, he noted.
Mr. Sayre´s passion for EcoSan started in 2007 when the concept of “closing the loop” was first introduced to him by the Mr. Peter Wychodil of the German Doctors for Developing Countries. Through this link, he gained more knowledge from Ms. Ulrike Lipkow, GTZ adviser to an ecosan project in the Visayas and Dr. Robert Holmer of the Peri-Urban Vegetable project in Cagayan de Oro City.
In 2008, WAND built some 17 double-vault ecosan toilets with fund support from the German Doctors for Developing Countries. Most of these were located in elementary schools in the Misamis Oriental towns of Initao, Libertad and Manticao.
But the P28, 000 cost of the double vault model proved too expensive for its target users. In 2009, Mr. Sayre won a research grant from the Science and Technology Innovations for the Base of the Pyramid in Southeast Asia (iBoP-Asia) to explore alternatives to the double-vault model.
Today, four EcoSan models are now available ranging from the “hanging” ecosan toilet for coastal communities; lightweight, mobile arborloo toilets for mountain areas; single-vault ecosan toilets suitable for households and deployment during conflicts or calamities; and urinals or EcoPees.