HARTLAND, Wisconsin — In rural Zambia, more than 6 million people do not have access to clean water, and 11 million people do not have a “decent” toilet. In other words, one-third of Zambia’s population cannot access safe drinking water on a daily basis and more than half of Zambia’s population does not use an efficient toilet. Therefore, sanitation and drinking water are two issues that many Zambian residents face on a daily basis.
How Dry Toilets Work
Dry toilets address both sanitation and clean water access concerns.
Dry toilets are a type of composting toilet that breaks down human waste into topsoil. Unlike a conventional toilet, no water is used to get rid of waste; rather, waste is decomposed by bacteria through a heating and cooling process until the waste becomes natural topsoil.
Because dry toilets do not use water, they are a reasonable solution to sanitation issues in poor areas that do not have easy access to water sources. Human waste is contained and disposed of safely; when a dry toilet is used, no waste will contaminate any water source. In addition, no water, a valuable resource in rural Zambia, is wasted in the process. Water sources are not only preserved for alternative uses like drinking and cooking but the quality of the water source itself is also protected from pollutants like human waste.
Dry Toilets’ Impact on Poverty in Zambia
Dry toilets in Zambia help to reduce poverty in two specific ways.
Dry toilets produce a topsoil substance that can be used to promote agriculture. Currently in Zambia, agriculture is not very productive; in 2022, more than three-quarters of the labor force in Zambia was employed in the agriculture sector, but agriculture only contributed 19% to Zambia’s 2022 GDP. The labor-to-output ratio is not very high; in other words, farming in Zambia is not very efficient.
The inefficient farming practices reveal themselves in a second way. Although the majority of the labor market is farmers, nearly all of these farmers do not produce enough crops to generate an income. More than 90% of Zambia’s farmers are small-scale farmers, meaning that they engage in subsistence farming, which produces enough food for themselves and their families with very little or none left over for selling in the market. Because these farmers do not have leftover crops, they cannot earn an income from farming even though farming is their livelihood. Therefore, these farmers exist in poverty. According to the World Food Program, 77% of rural Zambians, usually those engaged in agriculture, live in poverty.
Topsoil creates a healthy environment for plant growth. It helps with nutrient distribution and water consumption, allowing plants to grow faster, stronger and healthier. The topsoil created from dry toilets lets plants thrive and makes farming more productive. By using topsoil created from dry toilets, a single farmer can then produce more crops and generate an income, lifting the farmer out of poverty.
Dry toilets save clean water which allows women to dedicate time to education and work. Climate experts estimate that dry toilets save 15,000 liters of water per person per year. For a family that has limited access to water, this is a life-changing amount.
Girls, upon whom the main burden of collecting water falls, save a huge amount of time every day by collecting less water. According to WaterAid, women and girls across all of sub-Saharan Africa spend 40 billion hours a year collecting water. When given back this time, girls can attend school or secure a job outside of the house. Daily attendance in school diminishes the gender inequality gap, develops useful skills in students and positions students for future high-paying jobs. Having a job outside of the home increases a household’s income, carrying them farther away from poverty.
Put simply, dry toilets reduce a household’s water consumption, which grants girls time to attend school, obtain a high-paying job and escape poverty.
Dry toilets in Zambia offer creative solutions to reducing poverty in rural areas that don’t have easy access to clean water. The topsoil-producing design helps poor farmers improve their farming practices, which allows them to turn their subsistence farm into a money-producing venture. In addition, dry toilets reduce water usage, thereby reducing women’s chores and allowing them to attend school or earn an income.
– Suzanne Ackley