No toilet, no wedding

Kenya-based video journalist Ruud Elmendorp recently produced this short trailer (on behalf of Waste.NL) on a young woman that refuses to marry her boyfriend – until his family builds a proper toilet:

The story is about a boy who is in love with the daughter of a school teacher. Much to the dismay of his father, she refuses because she finds their toilet unusable and refused to have to go to the bush for defecation.

The women’s group has filed a number of complaints due to poor sanitation and present this to the village chief, incidentally the uncle of the boy. He is quite amazed by this and decides to call the government sanitation adviser.

After an animated session with the villagers and the chief, many decide to go for suitable toilets. The film ends happily with the girl accepting the marriage proposal as the sanitation issues have been solved.

Ruud regularly produces interesting video material from East Africa that we have also featured on AfriGadget, btw.

Documentary on World’s Toilet Crisis

Rob of i360/Current TV recently informed me of this documentary by Vanguard correspondent Adam Yamaguchi who traveled to India, Singapore and Indonesia to understand why people don’t use toilets and what’s being done to end the practice of open defecation:

“An estimated 2.6 billion people, about 40% of the world’s population, have no access to toilets and defecate anywhere they can. As a result, more than 2 million people — including 1.5 million children — die from complications of chronic diarrhea.

When human waste isn’t contained or flushed down the toilet, it’s everywhere — in streets, open fields and, most dangerously, in the very water people drink. Adam investigates how countries are trying to solve an epidemic that few people want to talk about — the world’s toilet crisis.”

This documentary was aired on CurrentTV in September 2010 and has since generated quite a few interesting comments. Also includes footage on the work of the World Toilet Organization (WTO) via Jack Sim, as well as a light introduction to Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS).

Who Gives A Crap

The good part about running a blog instead of being a journalist is that you can write about stuff you really like and also insert your own opinion as well as asking your readers for their comments. This obviously happens outside the conventional (dev aid) world with its often streamlined, corporate communication policies which sometimes avoid mentioning open issues like the following initiative which I read about today in the recommendable EcoSanRes mailing list.

If you’re interested in sustainable sanitation issues, make sure not to miss out this valuable exchange on first hand experiences with participants from all over the world. Yes, it’s just an old-fashioned mailing list that will sometimes clog up your inbox, but it’s the tool people use to communicate (hello 2010, hello RSS feeds, hello blogs, hello Facebook, hello Twitter, hello LinkedIn/Xing…).

You’ll notice that I took this wonderful headline as an opportunity to include my 2c in the beginning because it’s something I’ve been meaning to mention on this blog for a long time. Also, if YOU feel like there’s a story that needs to be published here, please feel free to contact me and I will have a look at it. Thank you!

Now back to the main topic: “Who Gives A Crap“.

Who Gives A Crap actually is a very interesting and thought-provoking initiative that aims to support water & sanitation projects in the developing world via the sale of sustainable toilet paper.

Yes, this may sound like a joke because a) what’s (environmentally) “sustainable toilet paper”?, b) why only focus on developing countries? (~ developing in which sense? within the watsan/sanwat sector? hmm..) and c) the guys behind this are otherwise busy running “a website that fundraises for development aid organisations using internet advertising”.

Nevertheless, as the distinguished Professor Ralf Otterpohl from the Institute of Wastewater Management and Water Protection @ Technische Universität Hamburg-Harburg (Germany), pointed out in an e-mail reply today (on this said mailing list): [they are] “…touching an important issue. The cultural gap between washers and wipers shows that both sides are doing something strange.”

I couldn’t agree more. Both, using only dry paper OR only water with your bare hands aren’t sustainable solutions. Yes, people have been practising each method for ages, and probably everyone has perfected his/her own method of anal cleansing over the years and will teach/show his/her children accordingly – but are these methods really sustainable?

Wet toilet paper? Ralf goes on arguing that wet toilet paper is “not suitable for wastewater treatment plants of vacuum blackwater systems”. Ha! I am a huge fan of vacuum systems and wet toilet paper, but this revelation is something new to me. No wonder the toilet paper on planes (=> vacuum toilets)  is so thin and instantly dissolves. Also note that there are different types of wet toilet paper.

So with the situation being that we currently have many different sanitation systems all over the world (toilets, and the wastewater treatment, if any), and humans that are increasingly travelling all over the globe within hours, expecting similar standards all over the world, it begs the question if there is one unique and sustainable system that will fit everyone…(?).

One system for everyone. One toilet system – seat or squatting toilet & one cleaning procedure –  but obviously different treatment systems, adopted to the local climate/conditions (water, electricity, maintenance, etc.). Will this be possible? And is it a desired solution?

I don’t know if these are the right questions to ask when it comes to the complex matter of sanitation & treatment options, but then: how come we’re looking for sustainable treatment and reuse options if the cleansing process itself – the “interface” between users and a toilet – already is an unsolved issue by itself? And also part of the problem?

Ralf Otterpohl goes on telling us about the Terra Preta Sanitation (TPS) that partly consists of a disposable “food-quality” cleaning cloth, moistured with a lactid acid bacteria. Hey, doesn’t that sound like the desired sustainable toilet paper? And “food-quality” already sounds like a very smart Cradle2Cradle approach.

Terra Preta Sanitation (TPS) is a low-cost dry sanitation system based on urine diversion and the addition of charcoal to the system that produces lasting and highly fertile soils with properties similar to the recently [re]discovered manmade Terra Preta (black soil) in the Amazon region. Through natural processes of lacto-fermentation (silage) and vermicomposting, fecal material is converted into Terra Preta like soils that can be utilized in (urban) agriculture and also act as a carbon sink. (source)

Terra Preta Sanitation, a system designed for use in urban areas, with a separate collection of used toilet paper in a bucket. I already like the concept and that it has been re-discovered as a traditional method.

Wait….! You were first talking about sustainable toilet paper and now you’ve switched to a sustainable treatment system for urban areas that generates fertile soils? How’s that supposed to mix up? And why should I Give A Crap??!

Because you should. It starts with eating and doesn’t stop when you go to the toilet. There needs to a working closing-the-loops system in place that helps us grow food and also provides a secure and comfortable way for hygiene standards. Wet toilet paper that adds value to a system, if you will.

Coming back to the video above: would you buy (any) sustainable toilet paper and fork out an extra dime for it?

And: would you be willing to switch your existing cleaning method for any new – better – option? (similar to the already popular & separate collection of glass, paper and bio waste, which also required some behaviour change…)

new toilet facilities at Muyogoro Primary School, Rwanda

Alexandra from Rwanda Village Concept Project (Rwanda VCP) wrote in the other day to inform us of an ecosan toilet that Rwanda VCP built at Muyogoro primary school in Rwanda earlier this year:

“From our work on malaria education in the village of Mpungwe and Muyogoro Primary School, we have noted that the current level of hygiene constitutes a significant danger to public health. We are providing adequate sanitation facilities for children through ecosan toilet construction at their primary schools after seeing that the existing ones can be a danger to the children health and the environment. (…) On Monday, December 17 2007, the construction started at Muyogoro primary school, located in Huye District, Nyakagezi subsector. This construction has been realised in partnership between RVCP, 2 International Participants and BVDA.”

click here
to view the complete gallery

The Rwanda Village Concept Project is an international student-run project in Central Africa. This multidisciplinary development project was initiated in 1998 whereas the fieldwork started in 2002. Its aims are to improve the living standards in a Rwandan community by using simple and low cost methods and to develop the capabilties of students in participatory development work.

Dominik of was invited to cover the construction process with his camera and created these wonderful videos (full playlist on YouTube):


“People in this area just came together to build that public infrastructure…”