Archive for the ‘Sanitation’ 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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Jan17

Urban Agriculture Helps Combat Hunger in India’s Slums

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By Catherine Ward

In 2010, nearly 830 million people around the world lived in slums, up from 777 million in the year 2000, according to the United Nations.

Back street of an Indian slum. (Photo credit: http://shabanaadam.wordpress.com/)

The New York Times describes Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, as a “cliché of Indian misery,” with approximately 1 million slum dwellers living on 8 percent of the land in the western city of Mumbai. Although Dharavi lacks sufficient infrastructure to provide sewerage, water, electricity, or housing for residents, this dense community in the heart of India’s financial capital has a thriving informal economy with an annual economic output of up to US$1 billion.

Writing in Foreign Policy, Charles Kenny of the Center for Global Development observes that “slum dwellers may be at the bottom of the urban heap, but most are better off than their rural counterparts.” Urban centers, both in India and around the world, offer economic opportunities that rural areas do not. For this reason, some migrants voluntarily move to slums in hopes of learning new skills, setting up businesses, and sending their children to school.

India has a massive population of 1.2 billion, second only to China, and is home to an estimated 93 million slum dwellers. According to WaterAid, the country’s slum population has doubled in the past two decades. Slum communities can be hotspots for hunger, with an estimated 36 percent of slum children in Mumbai malnourished, reports the website Urb.im.

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Oct13

Saturday Series: An Interview with Gigi Pomerantz

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By Lee Davies

In our new Saturday Series, we interview inspiring people 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!

Gigi Pomerantz (Photo Credit: Linda Sechrist)

Name: Gigi Pomerantz

Affiliation: Youthaiti

Bio: Gigi Pomerantz is the executive director of Youthaiti, a nonprofit promoting ecological sanitation in Haiti. Ms. Pomerantz founded the organization in 2008.

Why did you begin work in Haiti? And what led you to focus on sanitation?

My work in Haiti began in 2006 when I traveled on a medical mission to the rural village of Duchity in Grand’Anse. During our first day there we met with local teachers, health agents, and the one physician who lived in the village to do a ‘health needs assessment.’ They listed sanitation as one of their top five priorities for improving health.

For the next five days we saw 1,400 patients and treated every single one for intestinal worms and at least 50 percent for other gastrointestinal problems, including a lot of diarrhea. It became clear to me that this need was real. As a nurse practitioner, my focus has always been on prevention, and sanitation is prevention at its most basic level. Prevent the water that you drink from becoming contaminated, and you save the lives of millions of children who die from childhood diarrhea.

After the completion of Youthaiti’s projects, how will communities continue these sanitation programs?

We are introducing several methods of ecological sanitation that should be sustainable for even the poorest of the poor. Currently we encourage two methods of household sanitation: the Arborloo shallow pit composting latrine, and the Humanure bucket toilet. An Arborloo costs about $60 to construct with a concrete squat plate and a movable shelter. A Humanure bucket toilet could cost as little as $2.50 if they just squat over it, or $15 with a toilet seat. Both methods create compost. Arborloos compost directly in the ground, where a tree can be planted. Humanure toilets provide humanure, which can triple or quadruple garden yields and increase family income.

We also have built 17 community urine-diverting toilets to serve schools and other gather places, such as markets and bus stops.

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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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Jul06

New Harvest’s Jason Matheny Shares Perspectives on the Future of Meat Alternatives

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By Kevin Robbins

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, between 1970 and 2010 the number of cows raised for human consumption rose 32 percent to reach 1.4 billion, pigs rose 76 percent to reach 965 million, and chickens rose 273 percent to reach 19.4 billion. But despite its popularity, current levels and methods of meat production and consumption can have an adverse effect on human health, the environment, and animal welfare.

Jason Matheny is working to produce economically viable meat substitutes. (Photo credit: MercoPress.com)

New Harvest is an organization that supports research regarding economically viable meat substitutes and provides a forum for sharing related innovations. In the interview below, New Harvest founder Jason Matheny talks about the work of the organization and his perspectives on the future of meat alternatives.

Why did you start New Harvest and what is its primary focus?

I founded New Harvest in 2003 because there wasn’t an organization devoted to advancing technologies for new meat substitutes. There are several companies making plant- or mycoprotein-based meat substitutes, but there was no organization working on more advanced technologies, such as cultured meat, and no organization looking broadly at how to replace animal proteins with advanced substitutes. We fund academic research, conferences, and economic and environmental assessments. We’ll probably continue focusing on these areas, since it addresses an important need.

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Jun22

Al Jazeera Video: “G20 Leaders Discuss Brazil’s Slums”

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Nourishing the Planet Director Danielle Nierenberg was featured on Al Jazeera English where she called for increased emphasis on women’s health and reproductive rights at the Rio+20 Conference.


“If women have access to the resources they need…they can make a real impact,” said Nierenberg. “Study after study shows that the more women are educated, the fewer children they have.”

The 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, took place this week just miles from sprawling slums like Manguinhoes, where lack of access to contraceptives or reproductive health services has caused rapid population growth.

What innovations or programs do you know of that are advancing women’s health and reproductive rights?

Jun22

Live from Rio+20: “Favelas and Protests”

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Crossposted from RH Reality Check.

by Vicky Markham, Center for Environment and Population (CEP)

Cachoeirinha Favela family. (Photo credit: Vicky Markham)

This morning I ventured the opposite direction from Rio Centro where the UN Rio+20 negotiations are taking place, and travelled with colleagues to the Cachoeirinha (I was told it means “waterfall”) Favela in Rio de Janeiro. These shantytowns are quite common in Rio, well over one million strong, located within and around the city limits. This particular one has 37,000 residents.

We made the trip to visit the BEMFAM reproductive health and family planning clinic there, and were treated to a gathering of youth already discussing the facts of life, and more, with a BEMFAM counselor. This is especially poignant because youth in Brazil, similar to youth worldwide, are key to the issues we are debating here at the UN Rio+20 meetings just a few miles away. The Brazilian youth demographic, and the world’s, is the largest ever in history—it’s called the “youth bulge”—and from favelas, to cities, suburbs and rural areas everywhere, they represent the decision makers for the world’s future at all levels.

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Jun14

UN Food Agency Urges Companies and Organizations to Join Global Food Waste Initiative

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By Olivia Arnow

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued a statement calling upon companies and organizations around the world to join the Save Food Initiative and reduce global waste.

FAO and Save Food call on companies to help curb global food waste. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Save Food, established in 2011, has over 50 partners including donors, bi-and multi-lateral agencies, and financial institutions including IFAD, World Bank, WFP, UNIDO, EU, and African Development Bank. The initiative aims to reduce the 1.3 billion tons of food wasted each year totaling nearly $1 trillion, $680 billion in industrialized countries and $310 billion in developing nations.

FAO has enlisted the help of trade fair organizer Messe Düsseldorf GmbH and fair trade processor, Interpack, to generate support and gain the expertise of private sector partners and non-profits organizations.

According to FAO, food losses impact small farmers in developing countries the hardest, with almost 65 percent of food waste occurring during production and processing. In contrast, most food waste from industrialized countries occurs at the consumer level.

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