By Nyasa Times
Published: September 12, 2009
Lack of access to sanitation is still a big problem in Malawi. The Malawian Government estimates that only 23 percent of the population is using improved sanitation facilities such as ventilated improved pit latrines or flush toilets.
As in several other countries worldwide, ecological sanitation toilets are starting to gain acceptance in Malawi as another form of improved sanitation.
Ecosan toilets are similar to pit toilets; however they require the use of soil and ash on top of the feces after defecation so that the human feces will compost into manure (or as those in sanitation business call it “humanure”). The result is a fly- and odor-free latrine where the feces eventually become a valuable and effective fertilizer.
Those not using these types of sanitation are using either traditional pit latrines (a basic hole in the ground) or are defecating in the open. In most areas Malawi is densely populated, so unsanitary behavior is a serious health risk. Diarrhea is a major cause of illness and death amongst Malawian children.
Fortunately for the residents of the town of Jenda, Solister Phiri has taken the fight to end risky sanitation practices to heart.
If you travel from Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, through dry bush and hills, north on the way to Mzuzu you will pass a small trading post town called Jenda. Most storefronts resemble those in any small town until you come to one with a giant toilet painted on it.
Solister has set up his store on this roadside to promote the use of latrines, in particular ecosan toilets. Considering that most rural villages do not have access to running water, promoting VIP latrines and ecosan is a good option to improve sanitation.
On Phiri’s premises you can view and test various types of ecosan toilets, including the ArborLoo, the Skyloo and the Fossa alterna. If you visit, Solister will explain in great detail the process of ecosan and the benefits of its use.
The first important aspect of the ecosan toilet is that the user must separate the feces from the urine. The Skyloo for example contains a urine diversion component.
Another key difference between ecosan toilets and VIP latrines is that the user puts ash and soil on top of the feces after defecation. The ash and the soil enable the feces to compost, which turns it from a hazardous material into nourishing fertilizer. Once the pit is full it is critically important to give the feces six to 12 months to compost so that it is safe to use as fertilizer.
When Solister started his work as a sanitation promoter in 2002, few in Jenda had access to improved sanitation. Open defecation was a common practice contributing to poor health especially among children.
Since then at least 4,000 toilets have been installed and some villages have achieved 100 percent sanitation coverage, due in no small part to Solister’s efforts.
He alone has trained sanitation promoters for as many as 10 organizations involved in water and sanitation activities in Malawi, including WaterAid and Water For People.
A mason by trade, he teaches how to make latrine slabs and trains villagers how to use the ecosan toilets. He makes routine visits to households that use his ecosan toilets in order to ensure that they are used correctly.
Incorrect use can spoil the fertilizer and be a serious health risk. The next step for him is the business of harvesting, selling and using the humanure.
This aspect of Solister’s business is still in its infancy but he is hopeful. He has constructed a shed in which to store the humanure and he is applying it on his own garden with what he says are impressive results. Others in a nearby village also indicated their happiness with the efficacy of the humanure and showed off large and heavy husks of maize.
If a viable market for humanure can be established in Malawi — and there are signs that it will be — it could positively impact sanitation practices throughout the country and the region, saving lives, increasing food supply and ensuring that Solister’s ecosan toilet business will be profitable long into the future.
But for now, Jenda’s own Solister Phiri will continue working toward improving sanitation coverage … one toilet at a time.–UPI