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RP to export waterless toilets
By Blanche Rivera Inquirer Posted date: December 16, 2006

CERAMIC toilet bowls customized for ecological sanitation (Ecosan), a new sustainable sanitation approach designed to use human waste as a resource in the food chain, will soon be exported to Europe by a nongovernment organization in the Philippines. The Center for Advanced Philippine Studies (CAPS), which manufactures urine-diverting bowls for Ecosan toilets and provides training to users here, has received orders from Bulgaria for 500 bowls, according to its director Dan Lapid. First introduced in Africa to address the region’s sanitation and water shortage problems, Ecosan toilets are now being used in China, Mexico, Ecuador, Sweden, India, and Germany as well. Ecosan is the lead component of the Integrated Support for Sustainable Urban Environment, a Netherlandssupported program aimed at building models in waste management and sanitation to improve the lives of the poor, especially in developing countries. “It is a poverty alleviation program through proper sanitation and solid waste management,” Lapid told the Inquirer. Most interested in the unconventional Ecosan toilets are poor settlements saddled with the double dilemma of a huge sanitation problem and no access to water, he said. In the Philippines, a case in point is the village of San Agustin, a coastal community in La Union where at least 500 residents -- mostly fishermen and their families -- had to make do with three communal toilets. San Agustin resident Vivian Casuga recalled to CAPS trainers how having to wait to use the communal toilet was the most dreadful part of her life as a fisherman's wife. Casuga could not put up visiting family members for lack of a toilet. Worse, she had to often advise her children to relieve themselves in the busy alley in front of their house. Being a health worker in the village, she was aware that this practice was both unsightly and unhealthy. Still, she did not have the time to queue at the communal toilet with her kids because she had other duties. Faced with this stinking problem in her constituency, San Fernando Mayor Mary Jane Ortega wasted no time in contacting CAPS when she read a proposal for funding that it submitted to the World Bank in 2004. After much social preparation marred by the residents’ understandable resistance to the idea of collecting human feces and urine for composting, the Ecosan toilets were built. The center has put up 60 Ecosan toilets in San Agustin and the village of Nagyubuyuban since January, and with a P1-million allocation from the city government, is preparing to do the same in seven other villages. The local Science Centrum and botanical garden have also installed Ecosan toilets. “There are so many problems with the current conventional system where you flush and you forget it... It's very convenient but it's very bad for the environment,” said Lapid, who had an Ecosan toilet built just outside his Quezon City house. Experts now view the use of septic tanks for disposal of human waste -- the practice of about 90 percent of the Philippine population -- as unsustainable because of the emerging problem of water shortage and lack of treatment facilities, he said. According to Lapid, less than 10 percent of the country is connected to a sewerage plant that treats effluents before they go out to the waterways.

Treating effluents is necessary to avoid groundwater contamination and water pollution, but the problem is that "these go straight to our canals and rivers," Lapid said. "Our rivers are dead because of very bad sanitation,” he said, adding that 50 percent of the pollution in Philippine waters came from domestic liquid waste. On the other hand, an Ecosan toilet, which needs proper ventilation and has to be maintained at a temperature of about 30 degrees, allows the segregation of human feces and urine in separate chambers. The feces are covered with lime and ash or sawdust, which kill pathogens and facilitate drying to prevent foul odor. These are then collected by the local government and composted for use as fertilizer. (In La Union, these are brought to the botanical garden.) Studies show that 30 to 50 kilograms of human feces can produce 7.5 kilos of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, enough to help produce 230 kg of food -- a regular person’s average annual intake. For the period 2007-2010, CAPS aims to supply Ecosan toilets to 5,000 households as well as training in the proper use of the urine-diverting bowls. At least 600 bowls have been sold locally since the Ecosan toilet was introduced last year. This year alone, CAPS has sold bowls to Sorsogon, Bais in Negros Oriental, Anda and Alaminos in Pangasinan, and Santol, Caba and Agoo in La Union. Pioneer user San Fernando is building a fisherman's village composed of houses equipped with Ecosan toilets. Gawad Kalinga has also installed such toilets in 35 of the 50 houses it built in Tarlac this year. The 2006 UN Human Development Index has highlighted the global water crisis as among the most pressing poverty issues. Some 2.6 billion people worldwide lack access to adequate sanitation and one billion have no access to clean water, the UN report said. Every year, some 1.8 million children die of diarrhea and other illnesses caused by unclean water and poor sanitation. “Few countries treat water and sanitation as a political priority, as witnessed by limited budget allocation,” the report said. With Ecosan making its way halfway across the globe, the future may look -- and smell -- a bit better for the world's poorest.

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