This is discussion about RevoLOOtionary: Developing Rural Markets for Sanitation.
Congratulations on being selected a Finalist in the Making More Health competition! Sanitation is a huge issue, and your innovation is yet another way of approaching the issue with low cost latrines for the poorest. It appears you have a good plan for sustainability. Could you explain how the latrines will be dealt with when they are full?
-From the BI Judges Panel
Thanks so much for your message. You're absolutely right to point out that we need to close the sanitation loop so that the benefits of using a latrine are not nullified by unhygienic emptying/treatment/reuse of waste. Cambodia like many countries does not have a sewerage system in most of the country, which is still rural. Therefore, the pits do need to be emptied when they are full. We've seen a wide range in the pit usage duration, from 2 years to never needing to be emptied. This depends on the variable climates, soil types, number of users, etc. There are plenty of proposed solutions to waste management but none has really be successful at gaining traction in terms of true behavior change. Given the strong tradition of using waste for agriculture (at least in Cambodia), it has been difficult to get people to stop dumping the waste directly onto their fields. We have been researching waste management solutions that are both technologically feasible in the local context, culturally relevant and likely to be adopted by people, and also implemented using market mechanisms to ensure sustainability. We have looked into a wide variety of things including vermiculture for treatment, large facilities, pump truck businesses, etc. but are still working on it!
Using a latrine is just a very small part of the sanitation solution. The national strategy to improve water/sanitation in Cambodia is 3-pronged - washing hands, clean drinking water, toilet usage. Toilet usage we believe is strongly tied to toilet purchase, and hence we are working on increasing toilet sales. We can think of creative ways to plant the seed of proper emptying/waste management practices during sales and marketing, but at the end, it is up to the businesses to do this because that would be the only way it would be sustainable (i.e. iDE staff cannot always be the ones disseminating social marketing). Therefore, we would need to set up processes and incentives for businesses to be the promoters and closing the sanitation loop properly, which hopefully would also be tied to a business model for emptying/treatment/waste reuse.
In the meantime, arguably, keeping the shit in one place for two years and then emptying onto the field is a less bad alternative than just shitting everywhere always, where the human/feces relationship is not separate. One of the major problems with sanitation in general is the lack of a complete sanitation solution. In the meantime, we're trying to do the best we can to address the lack of access problem of not having toilets. Ideally the solution also includes waste management considerations.
Thanks for your interest and support!