Archive for the ‘Hygiene’ Category

Sep22

Innovation of the Week: A Low-Cost Composting Toilet

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By Sarah Alvarez

Across the Asia-Pacific region, millions of people have inadequate access to sustainable sanitation infrastructure—in other words, they don’t have a safe and sanitary place to go to the bathroom. In the Philippines alone, 28 million people do not have access to the sanitation services needed to prevent contamination and disease. As a result, millions of people suffer from preventable diseases like dysentery.

Low-cost composting toilets can improve sanitation in less developed areas. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

The Water, Agroforestry, Nutrition and Development Foundation (WAND), a Philippine-based organization focused on eco-based solutions to human development challenges, has developed a low-cost composting toilet called Ecosan (Ecological Sanitation) that uses local materials to minimize water contamination and create fertilizers from human waste.

The WAND Foundation has developed several dry composting toilet models, some of which were recognized at the 2011 Tech Awards at Santa Clara University. At the conference, Cora Zayas-Sayre, executive director of the WAND Foundation, explained that by using local materials, the organization has been able to build 275 toilets at a cost of US$30 per toilet. She added that this innovation has already impacted the lives of 3,000 people.

This innovation simultaneously addresses two challenges that prevail in developing countries: the unsustainable and costly use of water-sealed toilets, and the hygienic management of human waste. Water-sealed toilets require pumping mechanisms to transport water and sewage between 300 and 500 meters away from the home, a method that is economically and environmentally unsustainable. Inadequate management of human waste can lead to a host of health problems in developing areas, and dramatically impact quality of life.

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Sep20

Innovation of the Week: Gathering Waste and Making Good of It

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By Jeffrey Lamoureux

In most of the world’s slums, sanitation is a daily challenge. In the absence of sewage systems, people living in slums in Nairobi, Kolkata and São Paulo rely on rows of pit latrines shared by hundreds of other people, while others use “flying toilets” to dispose of waste. Disease and infection spreads easily in such environments.

Sanergy units can be built quickly and easily with affordable materials (Photo Credit: Sanergy)

But some social entrepreneurs in Nairobi are picking up where the government has left off and attempting to provide sanitary options to the slums. Sanergy, for example, is a company launched by a group of students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Sloan School of Management. The group has designed low-profile sanitation centers that can be constructed anywhere to provide hot showers and clean toilets. These facilities can be built quickly and easily with affordable materials. Waste from the centers is deposited into airtight containers that are collected daily. Then it’s brought to processing facilities that can convert it into biogas. The biogas generates electricity, while the leftover material is made into fertilizer.

The company won a USD $100,000 grant from MIT and has been building its first units in Nairobi. It charges a low pay-per-use fee and hopes to grow by franchising the operation of its units, creating an income opportunity for enterprising residents. As the number of toilets proliferates, so too will the amount of energy the company is able to generate from its processing facilities. It hopes to eventually generate enough energy that it can sell its power to the national grid.

The company’s unique and innovative approach is notable for the way it combines the decentralization of waste collection with the centralization of waste processing. Retrofitting the slums with proper sewage drains is a near impossibility and can be an expensive and potentially politically volatile effort in areas where landownership is at best ambiguous. The self-contained units grant access to sanitary facilities to even those far off the grid. But by centralizing the processing of waste, Sanergy’s facilities will take advantage of the economies of scale present in the waste conversion process.

By creating products of value out of the waste, the company creates an incentive for others to set up their own facilities in partnership with Sanergy. The company hopes that there may eventually be facilities on every neighborhood block, significantly increasing the number of people with access to clean sanitation. The energy generated through the waste production will be a clean option to power a growing economy, and the fertilizer is a nutrient-rich alternative to expensive petroleum based fertilizers.

Do you have any other examples of innovations that are addressing the problems of sanitation within urban slums? Share them with us in the comments below!

Jeffrey Lamoureux is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE.

Aug04

Saturday Series: An Interview with Rowen Jin

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By Seyyada A Burney

In our new Saturday Series, we interview inspiring people that our readers have nominated. These people are working on the frontlines to improve the global food and agricultural systems. Want to nominate someone?  E-mail your suggestions to Danielle Nierenberg!

Rowen Jin is a Project Manager for World Water Relief in Haiti. (Photo credit: Rowen Jin)

Name: Rowen Jin

Affiliation: World Water Relief

Bio: Californian Rowen Jin recently graduated from Swarthmore College as a Biology major and an English minor. She immediately fell in love with Haiti during her first visit in the summer of 2011 for  earthquake relief work. After making a career change from research to health-related development work, Rowen returned to Haiti in 2012 as a Project Manager for World Water Relief.

She speaks fluent Chinese and is conversational in Haitian Creole and Spanish.

Almost one-sixth of the world’s population does not have access to safe drinking water. How are World Water Relief’s projects alleviating this deficit?

In 2009, Kevin Fussell, MD, one of the founding members of World Water Relief and our current Board president, personally witnessed and recognized a need for safe drinking water in Batey Siete, Dominican Republic. Bateys are communities of largely Haitian sugarcane field workers throughout Dominican Republic. Many of these batey communities are underdeveloped and underfunded by the Dominican government because they are predominantly Haitian. We’ve been working ever since 2009 to help the situation on the island of Hispaniola. For most of our projects, we implement the school model of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). We construct drinking and hand-washing stations at schools, improve sanitation facilities, and conduct hygiene education courses. Through this approach, we hope to bring more comprehensive changes to the communities where we have projects. The key to our success is that we recognize our limitations and know our strengths.  We know we can have a positive effect on small communities and school populations if they meet a set of criteria that we have established, including community support for the project, a source of water, school administrators who want us to be there, etc.  We bring an understanding of the culture and language (all of our project managers speak the language of the countries we are serving) and a respect for the opinions of the people.  This is our formula for success.  We don’t necessarily look at the whole country’s population. We focus on those we know we can help. The specific areas where we are working have no voices other than among themselves.

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Aug01

CDC Reports Rising Rates of Foodborne Illness

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By Caitlin Aylward

The most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that that the frequency of foodborne illness outbreaks have not improved over the past decade, despite the passage of the most recent Food Safety Modernization Act.

Eating grass-fed meat is one way to reduce your chances of contracting a food-borne illness. (Photo credit: American Cattlemen)

According to the CDC, an estimated one in six Americans became sick last year from foodborne pathogens. Of the 48 million Americans who contracted foodborne illnesses, 128,000 were hospitalized and 3,000 people died.

The most recent statistics from the CDC report that outbreaks of salmonella, vibrio, campylobacter, and listeria have all remained steady or increased in prevalence since 2007. Only incidences of E. coli have declined within this time period, and only marginally so.

Salmonella and E. coli are both foodborne pathogens that can lead to illness if contaminated fecal matter comes into contact with food. Poultry is the food most commonly associated with salmonella outbreaks, whereas E. coli bacteria are typically found in ground meat products. Both pathogens, however, are linked to the standard grain-based diets, as well as the factory farm conditions, in which cattle and poultry are raised.

Grain-based feeds can encourage the growth of dangerous E. coli bacteria in a cow’s stomach, whereas grass-based diets eliminate the potential development of these dangerous pathogens.

Moreover, livestock and chickens raised in factory farms are often packed tightly into feedlots, where animals stand in pools of manure, allowing foodborne pathogens to circulate throughout the facility and contaminate the feed. In modern slaughterhouses, the animals’ hides are also often covered in manure, making it difficult to keep contaminated fecal matter from coming into contact with an animal’s flesh. If farmers use raw manure for fertilizer, foodborne pathogens, such as E. coli or salmonella, can even contaminate produce.

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Jul27

The Raw Milk Debate

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By Keshia Pendigrast

According to a study released in the February edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), raw milk and its products are 150 times more likely than their pasteurized milk counterparts to sicken consumers. Yet according to Food Safety News, over 10 million Americans demand access and the choice to consume unpasteurized, raw milk.

The legal status of raw milk around the country. (Photo credit: Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund)

In 1948 Michigan was the first state in the United States to mandate that milk be pasteurized, and raw milk consumption was restricted to farm owners only. John Partridge, a Dairy Food Extension Specialist at Michigan State University, explains that “Pasteurized milk is when we cool milk down and then run it through a heat treatment system….to destroy the most heat-resistant pathogens.” These include pathogens like E. coli and salmonella, which can cause extreme sickness and, in some cases, death.

But processes such as pasteurization and sterilization of milk also reduce milk’s nutritional value. For instance, sterilization significantly impairs the bioactivity of vitamin B6, while pasteurization reduces milk’s Vitamin C content and also destroys Beta-lacto globulin, a heat-sensitive protein that increases intestinal absorption of vitamin A. “Raw Milk didn’t make people sick, campylobacter did,” said co-owner of ‘Your Family Cow Farms,’ Edwin Shank, in a recent interview for Bloomberg. “That’s an important distinction. Whenever it’s raw milk, people want to vilify raw milk and say don’t drink it. They don’t say the same thing about cantaloupe or spinach or peanut butter.”

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May25

Bringing Public Health to the World’s Poorest: An Interview with Joan Van Wassenhove

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By Laura Reynolds

Name: Joan VanWassenhove

Affiliation: Partners in Health

Partners in Health delivers health care, education, and employment to impoverished communities. (Photo credit: PIH.org)

Bio: Joan VanWassenhove is the Assistant Coordinator for Nutrition in Haiti at Partners in Health (PIH), a health care organization that fights poverty by providing education, medical care, and employment in disadvantaged communities worldwide. VanWassenhove holds a dual Masters in International Affairs and Public Health at Columbia University, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition at the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

What inspired you to become involved in global health and development?

In 2007 I was doing graduate work at Columbia University, studying international affairs and public health,and I interned at Partners in Health during that summer. I never really saw myself working in the medical field because I had no plans to go to medical school, but while I was interning I saw how broad PIH’s approach to health care and poverty alleviation was, and I wanted to stay involved.

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