Brown is the Color of Rain: Guest Blog by Anthony Kilbride

EkoLakay client carrying waste containers through flood waters. Photo courtesy of Centre Impact

These are strange times if you’re a raindrop. Gone are the days when you could predict your falling, or your freezing, but also the hardness and hygiene of your landing. Around the world, raindrops are finding themselves land on harder and dirtier surfaces, as we urbanize and impermeabilize our landscape, but also neglect to invest in the environmental health systems which keep us, and our raindrops, clean and safe.  

SOIL’s container-based toilets are sealed off during flood events to prevent untreated waste from going out into the environment.

All of us in this global village are reminded of this fact from time to time. Whether a community is rich or poor, urban or rural, black or white, rain is non-discriminatory as to where it lands, and completely indifferent as to what happens next. The lack of resilient infrastructure to manage that rainfall (pipes; canals; ditches; swales; an intelligent and sparing use of impervious surfaces; green roofs; ‘sponge cities’; ‘Sustainable urban Drainage Systems’ (SuDS); Integrated Solid Waste Management (ISWM); etc.) is however highly discriminatory, with most communities in low-income areas bearing the brunt of the nefarious effects of heavy rain, precisely because their infrastructure (whether natural or man-made) is woefully inadequate for the increasingly violent flash flooding that comes with a warmer world.  

Flooding within household in Cap-Haitien.

The combined effects of flash flooding and poor infrastructure were once again felt by the people of Haiti in recent days, as floods overwhelmed pipes and ditches and turned many urban areas into swimming pools. Cap-Haitien, in the North of Haïti, was particularly hard hit, and whilst the stories, pictures and videos give an idea of the devastation and its effects, a comprehensive understanding of the impact of Haïti’s rainy season requires an immersive experience, which I shall try and recreate through the power of prose: You need to cower under a shredded piece of cloth or tarpaulin by the side of the road as the rains batter down upon the earth; you need to navigate blindly, in a vehicle or by foot, the submerged road topography lest you be swallowed up by an open manhole or roadside ditch; you need to smell the human waste as you wade through the waters around you; and as you try and scrub the sludge from your legs, the same smell comes from the water from the tap. Finally, a fully immersive experience requires a trip to the toilet which, whether using a WC or a pit latrine, sends your poop straight out into the swimming pool where it will join the thousands of unsafely managed ‘floaters’, ultimately making their way to the sea.  

You can read up on the fully researched and analyzed linkages between poverty and floods in Cap-Haïtien in the drily titled 2020 World Bank report ‘Poverty and Floods in Cap-Haïtien’. If you’ve had the immersive, rain-soaked, faeces-smelling, Cap-Haitien experience, you will see that it states the obvious: “floods create important disruptions in households’ lives with interruptions in their children’s school and destructions to roads and paths. Poor households suffer more from floods than the average population of Cap-Haitien. To cope with a flood, two out of three households use their savings while reductions in the consumption of food items is another common coping mechanism, particularly among poor households.” To surmise; floods cause injury and death; floods cause hunger; floods cause disease; and floods send poor families deeper into poverty. It’s high time for a ray of hope.

EkoLakay team collecting sealed waste containers that prevent the contamination of precious water sources and protect ecosystems.

Only 1% of human waste in Cap-Haitien is safely managed. This 1% is the poop is collected in containers from SOIL’s EkoLakay toilets and taken out of households and communities on a weekly basis, to be safely treated and converted into nutrient-rich compost. It’s an innovative service which provides users with safe, affordable, climate-resilient sanitation all year round, but it’s also a service that really comes into its own when the rains come down. As demonstrated by these pictures and in this video, SOIL’s household customers protect their environment from their poop because it is locked away in sealed containers which will not contaminate the flood waters, unlike the flooded latrines and septic tanks which surround them. 

SOIL still has a long way to go in Haïti (1% of safely managed sanitation is negligible when flood waters carrying the other 99% rush through your streets and into your bedroom) and more households, more businesses, and more government institutions, need to embrace container-based sanitation as an important tool for both climate adaptation and mitigation. The battle ahead will be difficult, with many public health infrastructure decision-makers still wedded unconditionally to sewers, and still skeptical of innovative approaches to sanitation. But the tide is turning, and SOIL and their partners are on the right side of history when it comes to protecting communities from water-based disease, and protecting our planet from unsustainable sanitation practices.  

So the next time you are singing in the rain, or marveling at the fresh scent of nature after a spring-time shower, spare a thought for those for whom the rains bring dread, death and disease. If you work in the sanitation sector, you could try telling SOIL’s story to your donors or to your colleagues. You never know, they might just care more than raindrop.  

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2 Replies to "Brown is the Color of Rain: Guest Blog by Anthony Kilbride"

  • Dana Visalli
    February 12, 2022 (6:56 pm)

    You people are the real leaders on the planet; thanks for the great work you do.

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