Expanding Access to Sanitation 73 Toilets at a Time

Photo: Tony Marcelli

SOIL just wrapped up its fiscal year last month and we ended on a high note with 73 EkoLakay toilet installations in July alone. That’s more toilets than we had previously installed during any month this year!

The majority of these new customers live in two densely populated urban areas in Cap-Haitien: Nan Bannann, a relatively new service area for EkoLakay, and Fort Saint Michel, a nearby neighborhood where SOIL has been working for several years. We don’t have precise data on sanitation coverage in these neighborhoods, but local community-based organizations estimate that over 80% of people don’t have access to a toilet.

Alexandra, a new EkoLakay customer in Cap-Haitien.

As our team installed the new toilets, we had a chance to get to know the families that are beginning to use EkoLakay’s service. What did we learn? Unfortunately, though not surprisingly,  that figure that local organizations report for access to improved sanitation in these neighborhoods in Cap-Haitien (80%) turned out to overestimate the previous sanitation coverage for the new EkoLakay customers. Though it’s not necessarily representative of the neighborhood at large, of the 72 households that joined in July, an alarming 88% of people reported that they hadn’t had access to a toilet before EkoLakay. In these neighborhoods, 80% of the families that now have an EkoLakay composting toilet in their home lack access to running water.

This looks a little different in the slightly more affluent neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Ti Plas Kazo, where we also installed toilets in July. In a recent satisfaction survey, EkoLakay customers in this neighborhood reported that what they liked most about their EkoLakay toilet was that they are able to save money. For them, this was possible because they no longer need to buy the water that was necessary to flush their old toilets, nor do they need to pay for waste removal by Haiti’s underground latrine cleaners.

For community members of Nan Bannann and Fort Saint Michel, however, beginning to use EkoLakay’s service costs 200 Haitian gourdes (just over 3 USD) that they hadn’t previously had to pay each month because they didn’t have a toilet to flush, period. Without an in-home toilet, families were forced to go in a bag (a “flying toilet”) or use a nearby ravine or empty lot, often in the early hours of dawn when some discretion was possible. That waste contaminated the environment, including the groundwater that people use for bathing, washing, and cooking food. Now, not only will safety risks for these families be mitigated, the resources of that waste will go back to the earth as safe and organic compost.

While saving money is not the motivation for these urban Cap-Haitien residents to sign up for EkoLakay, there are many other reasons why they are willing to pay for sanitation in this this precarious context. Almost a quarter of the new customers in Nan Bannann and Fort Saint Michel shared that they joined to protect their families. Alexandra, pictured to the right, is one of our new customers. After having an EkoLakay toilet in her home for just over a month now, she is excited to share that “EkoLakay is helping my family! We didn’t have any other options before, and we love the service.”

Families like Alexandra’s who are willing to make the sacrifice to pay for EkoLakay each month are testaments to the transformative power of access to a dignified, safe in-home toilet. SOIL is currently carrying out extensive research in our Cap-Haitien service areas, where we hope we will gain more insight into what else motivates families to sign up for EkoLakay, as well as how we can continue to grow the feelings of pride that come with making a positive impact for one’s family and one’s entire community.

We’re using the momentum of our record-breaking July to start our new year off strong. If you hadn’t heard the news, in addition to trying to beat our July installation record, we’re busy building on to our composting site in Cap-Haitien to increase our capacity to treat and transform the waste from these new EkoLakay toilets. Here’s to continuing to expand access to sanitation and to even more EkoLakay installations next month!

To support SOIL’s work to provide EkoLakay toilets so that families like Alexandra’s have access to safe and dignified sanitation, please consider making a donation today.

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