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Indigenous adaptation: an ecological sanitation success in
By Mike Baños
CAGAYAN DE ORO – A home-grown adaptation of an appropriate technology developed in Europe, Latin America and Africa has successfully proven itself in actual field installations during the aftermath of the Tropical Storm Sendong disaster in this city and nearby Iligan.
“Ecosan was piloted by the Center for Advanced Philippine Studies (CAPS) in Tingloy, Batangas in 2000,” said Dan Lapid, CAPS President. Similar initiatives have since been implemented in San Fernando, La Union; Panglao Island, Bohol; Balit Infirmary Hospital in Agusan del Sur; Bayawan and Dumaguete cities in Negros Oriental; Cagayan de Oro City and Libertad, Misamis Oriental.”
But it wasn’t until after Tropical Storm Sendong rampaged through Cagayan de Oro and Iligan Cities last December 17 that it had a chance to prove its worth in an emergency.
Locally fabricated Eco-San toilets were deployed by the Water, Agroforestry, Nutrition and Development (WAND) Foundation in cooperation with the Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan Sustainable Sanitation Center and local partners in over 30 evacuation centers and schools in the two cities.
Dr. Elmer V. Sayre, in-house consultant, said WAND’s Eco-San toilet (also known as Urine Diverting Dehydration Toilet or UDDT) was originally designed to address the sanitation needs of the “base of the pyramid” (BoP): households too poor to afford their own toilets, those in remote areas not reached by government services, those with inadequate or no access to clean potable water, and those in conflict and/or disaster-hit areas.
“Present sanitation systems based on the flush-pour toilet operate on the premise that human wastes are better off disposed,” said Dr. Sayre. “But it is not effective in areas where there is no water or where septage is difficult to build as in the flooded zones of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro following the Sendong disaster.”
When the supply of potable water following the disaster became critical, especially in Cagayan de Oro, the dry/waterless Eco-San toilets proved a God-send.
“Ensuring sanitation for thousands of people during an emergency following a natural disaster is a challenge especially if the affected places lack water,” said Lilia GC. Casanova, CAPS executive director during a National Consultation Workshop on Guidelines for Implementing Ecological Sanitation in an Emergency held March 20, 2012 at Searsolin, Xavier University. “Until Typhoon Ondoy hit Manila in October 2009, sanitation during emergencies was not acknowledged as a concern.”
However, when portalets deployed in Manila after Ondoy and in Cagayan de Oro following Sendong proved too expensive to maintain and were rendered unusable after a few days, and latrines proved impractical, emergency workers turned to Eco-San toilets.
The Sustainable Sanitation Center of XU first installed two units each at the West City Central School and Macabalan Elementary School. WAND followed up with two locations in Cagayan de Oro and three in Iligan. Some 158 units of the “single-vault” design (including 30 ceramic UD bowls donated by CAPS) were eventually deployed to various locations in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro for the duration of the emergency.
Built with locally available indigenous materials, one unit of the single vault Eco-San toilet could be built within half a day for as little as $112 compared to $2,790 for a portalet (incl. chemicals and installation). Daily maintenance costs for a portalet was $53 compared to $0.70 for the econ-san.
“Based on the experiences of the two cities and one academic institution that early on implemented the demonstration projects, the ‘Eco-san’ toilets have been shown to exhibit qualities that make it socially, culturally, economically and environmentally appropriate, making it a sustainable option,” wrote Ms. Casanova in her evaluation presented during the workshop. “These demonstration projects validated the results of researches and studies on the viability of the Ecological Sanitation system done by global institutions like the Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI) and German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ, today known as the GIZ).”
Urine and feces collected from the Eco-San facilities were collected on a daily basis by WAND crews in both cities and brought to the NGO’s Eco-Village Demonstration Farm in Libertad, Misamis Oriental where they would be recycled as organic fertilizer.
“We would like to eventually proceed to the next step and offer Eco-San for permanent relocation sites where the residents themselves can maintain the facilities and recycle the wastes as organic fertilizer for their vegetable gardens, bananas, trees and flowers thus literally ‘closing the loop’ between sanitation and food security,” Dr. Sayre said.
World health statistics show inadequate sanitation facilities and poor hygienic practices cause debilitating water borne diseases which account for over two percent of the combined GDP of the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Cambodia.
The UN Green Economy Report released last year for the World Water Week conference in Stockholm, Sweden cited how the Philippines loses about $1.4 billion (in 2005 prices) or some 1.5% of its GDP to problems caused by poor sanitation and lack of access to a clean water supply.