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Sustainable sanitation for Haiti Recommendations and lessons from the National Conference on sustainable sanitation, June 2012, Port-au-Prince
Julie PATINET, September 2012

(The information contained in this article is based primarily on a summary of the 11 oral presentations from the National Conference on sustainable sanitation, as well as the author’s personal knowledge of the context)

Following the earthquake, a large number of different kinds of ecological sanitation (EcoSan) projects were implemented as part of the humanitarian response. The majority of these projects met with major difficulties or failed due to the lack of expertise of aid organizations, the absence of pilot projects to test the projects on a small scale before they were implemented on a large scale, combined with an underestimation of the funds required for the “soft” (support) component of projects of this kind. At the same time, the newly created DINEPA, which had shown some interest in the EcoSan approach, had difficulty receiving any information about these projects, which were never evaluated and about which lessons were never shared. In June 2012, SOIL and UNICEF organized the first national conference on sustainable sanitation in Port-au-Prince. More than one hundred and fifty people representing fifty-five organisations (DINEPA, NGOs, university researchers and independent consultants [1]) took part in the conference. It was an opportunity to share experiences about the different aspects of EcoSan projects in IDP camps, urban neighbourhoods, in rural environments, at individual or community level, in markets and in schools (technologies such as composting and bio-digesters, social and maintenance aspects, agricultural engineering and existing research on the elimination of pathogens).

Sustainable sanitation is defined by the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA) as a system which is not only economically viable, socially acceptable, technically and institutionally appropriate, but also protects the environment and natural resources.

Ecological sanitation is one kind of sustainable sanitation which consists of recycling and re-using waste water and excreta to fertilize the soil, considering “human waste” (faeces and urine) as re-usable resources as they are in all terrestrial ecosystems.

Ecological sanitation (EcoSan) is a cross-cutting approach which concerns the WASH, Health and Food Security sectors. Though EcoSan refers to a number of different techniques, it is above all a general principle of understanding and respect for natural cycles of nutrients and matter. In addition to confining and sanitizing [2] the pathogens contained in faeces (like all proper sanitation systems), EcoSan systems recycle the nutrients contained in the excreta and waste water. In nature, excreta and waste water from humans and animals play an essential role in the production of healthy soils and nutrients which are useful to plants. In the Haitian context, where the environment is extremely damaged, everything which contributes to soil restoration should be encouraged.

SOIL has been the most active NGO in the area of ecological sanitation in Haiti since 2006, and was one of the first to develop a successful EcoSan approach following the earthquake: urine-separation toilets and the re-use of compost in small camps in Port-au-Prince, training [3] in the construction of urine diversion systems and the construction and running of several sites for the composting of faecal waste [4]. At the height of the response, SOIL was running 200 public toilets in 31 camps for 20 000 people.

The earthquake exposed the absence of a liquid sanitation sector in Haiti (and the need for an institutional framework, waste disposal sites, the formalisation of the bayakous’ status and capacity building). Providing support towards the creation of the sector was the first step towards development. In parallel, the transition towards sustainable sanitation involved providing support to neighbourhood sanitation projects in connection with the institutional framework being defined. Re-using waste at the family and collective levels in neighbourhoods, in collaboration with organisations who specialised in agricultural engineering and food security, was one of the keys to establishing the long-term sustainability of projects.

[1] The names of the speakers and the content of their presentations can be found on the SOIL website.

[2] Hygiéniser les excréta consiste à détruire ou désactiver les germes pathogènes et les parasites (responsables des maladies diarrhéiques) qu’ils contiennent, au moyen d’un traitement adapté.

[3] Particularly for builders

[4] SOIL had three compost sites after the earthquake (Delmas 33, Cite Soleil, Pernier) ; today, SOIL manages only one compost site in Truitier, in addition to the site in Limonade which has been in operation since 2009