PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – In Haiti, an organization called SOIL (Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods) has integrated a system that converts human waste into valuable fertilizer. The organization’s mission is to carve a “path to sustainability through transformation, of both marginalized people and discarded materials, turning disempowerment and pollution into participatory production.”
Now, three years after the earthquake in Haiti that killed over 200,000 people, the legacy left by international aid organizations is irresolute. Over nine billion dollars was put into Haiti after the earthquake, but very little of it actually touched Haitian ground and even less went into rebuilding the nation.
Oftentimes, the aid organizations left the country worse than before. The cholera outbreak that killed 8,000 people and affected almost 650,000 more was spread throughout Haiti by United Nations troops. It was the first cholera outbreak ever experienced by the country.
Over three quarters of the Haitian population lack access to adequate sanitation. The 11,000 temporary toilets that were brought in by international aid organizations are no longer being serviced. This means that Haitians must live with the 11,000 port-o-potties pose a significant health hazard.
But it is not all doom and gloom in the world of Haitian development. SOIL is one of the organizations that is working towards providing communities with sustainable solutions instead of short-term fixes.
SOIL’s ecological sanitation (EcoSan) toilets now number almost 25,000 across the island. To prevent the hazardous and odorous situation of the temporary toilets left by previous organizations, SOIL has integrated maintenance services from within the country, which has also generated local jobs.
Since 2006, SOIL’s Poopmobile (that’s right, a truck meant to be filled with poop) has come to communities, collected the waste and brought it to a waste treatment facility where it is composted at high heat for six months. This process removes the harmful pathogens and converts the waste into a nutrient-rich fertilizer that is then sold to farms for tree planting.
The development of the process included three phases- sanitation and toilets, developing the compost facilities and then distributing the fertilizer to the agriculture and food sector, according to co-founder Sasha Kramer.
At first, the toilets were public and the communities were in charge of maintaining them. However, they quickly learned that, while the initial enthusiasm will carry for a few months, eventually people get tired of picking up other people’s poop for free. That is when they decided that, for a small monthly fee paid by the households, they would hire a group of people for the waste management.
The system is ideal for schools, clinics, and tourism cooperatives, where the fee can be split up among multiple parties. In parts of Haiti, groups of multiple households split the toilets so they can also split the price of maintenance fee.
Deforestation and environmental degradation has led to soil depletion, which has hurt Haiti’s agricultural sector. The nation still imports 50 percent of its food. This compost program has the potential to also transform Haiti’s economy by allowing Haitians themselves to use their own soil to grow their own food.
The hope is that large international investors will take note of the potential of this program, and one already has. Heineken, the multinational beer company, has pledged to invest $40 million in Haiti by employing 75,000 sorghum farmers. They have communicated to SOIL that they’d like to purchase 50,000 gallons of fertilizer this year.
– Kathryn Cassibry
Sources: Christian Science Monitor, SOIL
Photo: Our Soil