Groupe URD: Sustainable Sanitation for Haiti: Recommendations and Lessons from the National Conference on Sustainable Sanitation, June 2012, Port-au-Prince

From the October Newsletter of Groupe Urgence Réhabilitation Développement.

Following the earthquake, a large number of different kinds of ecological sanitation (EcoSan) projects were implemented as part of the humanitarian response. The majority of these projects met with major difficulties or failed due to the lack of expertise of aid organizations, the absence of pilot projects to test the projects on a small scale before they were implemented on a large scale, combined with an underestimation of the funds required for the “soft” (support) component of projects of this kind. At the same time, the newly created DINEPA, which had shown some interest in the EcoSan approach, had difficulty receiving any information about these projects, which were never evaluated and about which lessons were never shared. In June 2012, SOIL and UNICEF organized the first national conference on sustainable sanitation in Port-au-Prince. More than one hundred and fifty people representing fifty-five organisations (DINEPA, NGOs, university researchers and independent consultants [1]) took part in the conference. It was an opportunity to share experiences about the different aspects of EcoSan projects in IDP camps, urban neighbourhoods, in rural environments, at individual or community level, in markets and in schools (technologies such as composting and bio-digesters, social and maintenance aspects, agricultural engineering and existing research on the elimination of pathogens).

Sustainable sanitation is defined by the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA) as a system which is not only economically viable, socially acceptable, technically and institutionally appropriate, but also protects the environment and natural resources.

Ecological sanitation is one kind of sustainable sanitation which consists of recycling and re-using waste water and excreta to fertilize the soil, considering “human waste” (faeces and urine) as re-usable resources as they are in all terrestrial ecosystems.

Ecological sanitation (EcoSan) is a cross-cutting approach which concerns the WASH, Health and Food Security sectors. Though EcoSan refers to a number of different techniques, it is above all a general principle of understanding and respect for natural cycles of nutrients and matter. In addition to confining and sanitizing [2] the pathogens contained in faeces (like all proper sanitation systems), EcoSan systems recycle the nutrients contained in the excreta and waste water. In nature, excreta and waste water from humans and animals play an essential role in the production of healthy soils and nutrients which are useful to plants. In the Haitian context, where the environment is extremely damaged, everything which contributes to soil restoration should be encouraged.

SOIL has been the most active NGO in the area of ecological sanitation in Haiti since 2006, and was one of the first to develop a successful EcoSan approach following the earthquake: urine-separation toilets and the re-use of compost in small camps in Port-au-Prince, training [3] in the construction of urine diversion systems and the construction and running of several sites for the composting of faecal waste [4]. At the height of the response, SOIL was running 200 public toilets in 31 camps for 20 000 people.

The earthquake exposed the absence of a liquid sanitation sector in Haiti (and the need for an institutional framework, waste disposal sites, the formalisation of the bayakous’ status and capacity building). Providing support towards the creation of the sector was the first step towards development. In parallel, the transition towards sustainable sanitation involved providing support to neighbourhood sanitation projects in connection with the institutional framework being defined. Re-using waste at the family and collective levels in neighbourhoods, in collaboration with organisations who specialised in agricultural engineering and food security, was one of the keys to establishing the long-term sustainability of projects.

Lessons learned:

Maintenance of the toilets is often problematic, one of the difficulties being to move from free access to fee-paying access. The cost of emptying toilets in particular is often too expensive for people to pay (subsidies necessary). The community’s ownership of the project and their participation in it from the beginning are essential factors to ensure the sustainability of the toilets. In addition, the users from each community need to be trained separately as no two communities are the same.


For NGOs:

  • Efforts should focus on resettlement sites.
  • WASH NGOs need to register with DINEPA and be proactive in providing information.


  • DINEPA should provide the sector with strong leadership.

For donors:

  • Donors should allow for flexible timelines on pilot projects to ensure quality outcomes.

Methodological and technical recommendations which are valid for all actors:

  • The active participation of the community in decision-making and the implementation of projects should be encouraged, which implies that they should be honestly informed about the advantages and disadvantages of different technology options all along the treatment chain.
  • The private sector – and small entrepreneurs in particular – should be encouraged to develop sanitation products and services (particularly emptying services).
  • Projects should be adapted to each individual case as no single technology is appropriate in all situations.
  • Materials and services which Haitians want and are willing to pay for should be developed.
  • Local options for the treatment of excreta need to be found in Haiti (due to the energy costs and the logistical complexity of transporting waste by truck or pipe).
  • Micro-biological analyses should be carried out before the compost from toilets is sold on a large scale, particularly as one of the factors which blocked the use of compost was the emergence of the cholera crisis [5].
  • The contents of double pit toilets should be treated a second time if they are to be used outside the household.
  • Investment is needed in Research and Development, which should be part of every sustainable sanitation project, as EcoSan is relatively recent in Haiti (there is a lot of research available on EcoSan around the world, but not enough specifically about Haiti). Too often the monitoring/evaluation of a project is limited to whether or not it ‘works’.

In Conclusion

It was regrettable that the projects presented during the conference were often focused on collection (toilets), whereas treatment (the final destination of toilet contents) is just as, if not more, important. Also, there have never been any external evaluations of the numerous EcoSan projects implemented before and after the earthquake. Yet, this would allow lessons from the various EcoSan experiences in Haiti to be shared (a relatively new approach here) and would help to nourish institutional reflection on the country’s ‘sanitation’ strategy.

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