SOIL in the Context of a Global Sanitation Crisis
By Shannon Smith
I’m five weeks into my Social Media and Outreach Internship with the 501(c)3 non-profit Sustainable Integrated Organic Livelihoods (SOIL) and I couldn’t be more pleased to be working with such an effective, socially responsible organization. In my time here I’ve come to more fully appreciate the gravity of the global sanitation crisis, being that over 2.5 billion people across the globe lack improved sanitation facilities. In Haiti, over 70% lack access to a toilet leading to a high rate of child mortality from waterborne diseases. While SOIL’s contribution to mitigating this problem sometimes feel like a drop in the ocean in the context of these staggering data, the fact still remains that close to 7,000 Haitians are currently benefiting from SOIL’s products and services. In addition, SOIL focuses on designs and services with the potential to be scaled up through social business development so it’s exciting to see how this small project might help address the international challenge of increasing global access to sanitation.
SOIL implemented the first urban waste treatment site in all of Haiti in 2009. Considering how densely packed Port-au-Prince is, this is truly astounding to imagine. SOIL now operates two out of four waste treatment sites in Haiti. The capacity of these sites is clearly inadequate to suit the needs of the country, but Haiti is moving in the right direction with their new Water and Sanitation Authority and the public and private sector are working together more closely than ever to quell the cholera epidemic and implement long-term sanitation solutions.
SOIL’s ecological sanitation (EcoSan) composting toilet has several huge advantages. First, it is a low-cost, simple model constructed within Haiti and that can be easily replicated. Second, it transforms the endless supply of potentially dangerous feces into compost, a much-needed soil amendment in Haiti where over 98% of the hills have been deforested and topsoil depletion is severe.
This is how SOIL gets waste to their treatment site: first, customers buy an EcoSan toilet and pay a very small fee to have their waste collected weekly. SOIL staff pick up the buckets of waste on the “Poopmobile” and dump it at the compost site. Then the waste is covered with carbon matter and watered a few times of week until it transforms into nutrient-rich compost!
This sanitation supply chain is demand driven, which demonstrates a strong willingness and ability to pay. In other words, the most vulnerable of people are not being priced out of the market and they themselves are choosing to adopt the technology. SOIL’s successful projects are showing that with the cost recovery of small monthly fees, the potential for successful sustainable private sector sanitation enterprises is well within grasp, even in Haiti, where people are not accustomed to paying for sanitation services.
Using the simple technology of EcoSan, SOIL has found a solution to the sanitation crisis that also happens to create the solution to the agricultural crisis. And although this post has largely been about the “cold hard facts” of sanitation in Haiti and the simple technology of EcoSan, it’s obvious from working here that SOIL is so successful because of the social awareness and sensitivity that all staff show, both Haitian and foreign. It’s this cultural fluency and commitment to Haiti that allows the technology to flourish.