I know it’s probably not grown up to talk about poo and pee, but the alliteration was just too tempting. It’s interesting though that we do use these coy words like ‘poo’, ‘pee’ and ‘no. 2s’ to talk about a function which is so fundamental. Sex, politics, religion and even what money you’ve got these days are no longer taboo subjects but to ask someone how often they defecate is completely off limits, unless of course, you’re talking to your doctor. But everyone does it, even the Queen, and Elvis famously died while on the toilet. Here in the developing world, designers and manufacturers have become rich creating wondrous bathrooms – quiet, private, beautifully decorated rooms, with toilets that keep your bottom warm while seated, ensure you are fresh and clean afterwards with carefully directed sprays, that the toilet is completely sanitised once the automatically closing seat comes down and a sweet smelling aroma is sprayed afterwards to ensure no-one knows what you’ve been doing.
Visit somewhere like an informal urban settlement in Bangladesh and your experience will be the complete opposite. If you’re lucky, there may be a room which you share with all the other families around you, young, old and the sick, with a hole in the ground that you have to perch over and hope that your aim is good. If you’re elderly or a child, this can be challenging, and for very small children extremely dangerous, with the risk of falling into the toilet pit. There’s also the threat of disease with no flushing with water to carry away the faeces and so it piles up, attracting flies, creating the ideal conditions for cholera, dengue fever, etc. After a while the toilet needs to be emptied and this is where people like Fadhiya come in, a young woman of 29, abandoned by her husband, with a child to take care. Desperate for work, Fadhiya visits these toilets, usually after, dark, climbing down into the pits to clear them with her bare hands into a bucket which she then heaves out of the pit, walking many miles to find somewhere that she can hopefully dispose of the poo and pee. She comes home to her family, smeared with excrement, dangerous to be near for her small child, and outcast by her community.
Practical Action can’t bring flushing toilets to all the people living in informal urban settlements, but we can begin to make a difference by protecting people like Fadhiya with equipment such as a manual ‘gulper’ (a hand driven pump) so that she doesn’t have to climb down into toilet pits. We can provide a tricycle rickshaw so that she doesn’t have to carry so many buckets of excrement, and we can find somewhere for all that poo to be deposited that isn’t going to contaminate a water supply.
So, next time you have a ‘poo’ or a ‘pee’, maybe think about putting a £1 or 1p aside each time just for a month and send the money to Practical Action. Just nine people doing that for one month and donating £38.50 each could provide one gulper, and ensure that one less toilet cleaner has to climb into a pit of poo and pee to make a living.
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My father visited us last weekend for my daughters 18th birthday. Lots of nice food, some wine and good conversation. But he has been reading the Daily Mail and after years of supporting my work in international development he suddenly decided to quiz me.
His big question – or lots of questions wrapped into one – was ‘how do you differ from Oxfam, why is is what you do important and what do you believe in?’
I started with the last question first and the official Practical Action answer ‘we believe in Technology Justice: A sustainable world free of poverty and injustice in which technology is used to the benefit of all’.
He doesnt drink alcohol but even so his eyes glazed over – too much jargon I suspect. I tried the simpler answer we believe in working together with people to develop and deliver practical, sustainable solutions. And we are good at it!
I always find examples help people understand best what Practical Action does and I love our work on podcasts and floating gardens. So talked about new solutions to old problems such as podcasts to disseminate animal health information to farmers in Zimbabwe. My dad loves animals and is deeply committed to their welfare. So he started to look interested at this.
I also talked about rediscovering and re-engineering old solutions to new problems, such as using ‘floating gardens’ for Bangladeshi farmers made landless by river erosion. They are great – the rafts are from the stems of water hyacinths which are a weed and they enable communities to grow food during the monsoon. The original floating gardens were developed by the Aztecs – which I always think is pretty wow!
Getting into my flow I started talking about Technology Justice and used another example – drinking water.
My dad loves history so I talked about the Romans building pipes and acquaducts to get fresh water into their cities. About the Victorians in UK cities engineering sewage systems to take away waste. And yet how even today lots of poor people in the developing world dont have access to clean water and decent sewers, so lots of people including lots of kids get ill and die.
For me this is technology injustice hitting you in the face. We have the knowledge and technology to prevent these deaths – we should be able to do soemthing about it.
I think – or maybe hope- at the end of the conversation my dad thought we are a clever organisation, making practical things happen, working together with people. I could tell he loved some of our stories and suspect he’ll be looking at our website – may even read this! But I suspect next time I see him Ill get more questions – Im hoping they will be about how you build a floating garden. I might catch him testing one out on his pond!
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This weekend I heard the ‘Tandem Turners’ talk about their round the world ride to raise money and awareness for Practical Action, I reflected on how today, bicycles play a big role in the lives of poor communities.
Hearing the ‘Tandem Turners’ talk about their round the world ride to raise money and awareness for Practical Action, I reflected on how today, bicycles play a big role in the lives of poor communities. I’ve recently returned from Southern Bangladesh and having visited, there are two jobs I’ve identified as being my version of hell:
1. Pit latrine emptier
2. Rickshaw driver
It’s obvious how a bicycle plays a role in Rickshaws, but what do bicycles have to do with pit latrine emptying? …and it’s obvious that emptying pit latrines as a living would be a nightmare, but what’s wrong with being a rickshaw driver?
Well rickshaws are definitely at the bottom of the road transport pecking order. Imagine… its rush hour, the roads are jam packed with tuc-tucs, cars, buses and lorries, you have no gears, there’s a passenger or two sitting passively in the back…oh and then there is their luggage…. Now this can be a small briefcase or hand bag, or it can be about 200 kilos of reinforced steel cabling (15 foot long), 100 kilos of mangoes, jack fruit or several 20 kilo sacks of rice… the temperature is in the mid thirties Celsius and the humidity is over 70 percent. Everyone else on the road has priority over you, everyone is hooting their horn at you and the pay you receive is not in line with the effort you exert.
So pit latrine emptying…bicycles, really? Well yes. In order to empty a pit latrine situated deep in the warren of narrow pathways in a slum, you need something to transport the waste that’s small enough to get between the houses but strong enough to cope with loads up to 200 kilos. Practical Action is working with communities of Bengali and Harijan ‘sweepers’ whose lot in life it is to clean the streets and empty pit latrines. With no safety equipment, just their bare hands and a bucket, these men and women remove foul smelling liquid sludge from these latrines and take it away – to be dumped into a canal or a ditch somewhere in the city. Our Safer Cities appeal last Christmas means that now, with Practical Action’s help, they are receiving training and safety equipment, and new sludge transporting bicycle carts. The next step is to work with the municipalities to help them deal with the sludge safely, and to invest in machinery that can be fitted to bicycle carts so that the sludge can be pumped from the pit without needing someone to climb inside.
Bicycle carts play an important role in other ways in this project. Specially adapted carts are used to collect kitchen waste from homes, that is used to create compost for farming, or digested to generate gas for cooking, piped to homes close by.
In communities where safe drinking water is still a dream, bicycle carts bring clean water to be sold for drinking and cooking. So whether its bringing clean water, removing waste or sludge, the bicycle still has the power to transform poor communities. Helping poor communities access appropriate technologies is still a key part of our work, and a key part of the puzzle in achieving a state of technology justice – where technology is used to for the benefit of all.No Comments » | Add your comment
Listening to the news this morning I realised that the two young girls in India, aged 14 and 16, who had been gang raped and murdered died as they had gone into the fields looking for a discreet place to go to the loo. Somehow it made it even sadder. Sanitation is a pretty easy fix given money and will to provide latrines, sludge management and hygiene education. It’s truly do-able.
The girls remain nameless as it’s illegal under Indian law for the media to identify the victims. The fact that we don’t know their names seems somehow wrong – but that may just reflect our news norms in the UK – we want to sympathise personally and share in grief and support. It also makes them representative of the millions of young girls who each day risk attack just by looking for somewhere to go to the toilet, walking to fetch water or firewood for their families, or carry maize to a mill for grinding.
Women are frequently at risk – you only have to look at some of the other stories from India.
But the stories from India are not alone. Also on the Today Programme this morning were reports of a woman in Sudan convicted of changing her religion from Muslim to Christian, who has been sentenced to death (commuted for 2 years – and hopefully for life!). She was forced to give birth in a prison cell (rumoured to have been shackled throughout). And a third which told the story of a pregnant woman in Pakistan stoned to death in public by her own family for marrying the wrong man. The man she married had already murdered his first wife by strangling but was let off prison as his son forgave him.
The school girls kidnapped in Nigeria are no longer in the news.
What draws these stories together is a view of women and girls that somehow says we are lesser – viewed as unimportant, as processions or to be controlled. We have no voice.
At Practical Action we work on the practical things in life – like loos. We also work with people trying to help them – women and men – gain voice. We call this material and relational well-being – material well-being is about having the things you need for a decent life, relational well-being is about having a say in your society and how things are shaped. Both are needed for sustainable development.
I was horrified by each of these stories.
But strange attitudes to women, women somehow invisible are not just something that happens in countries far away from those of us who live in the UK.
Not on the same scale but a story closer to home had me shouting at my Twitter feed the evening before. It was an image of the UK Prime Minister David Cameron meeting Jimmy Carter to talk about how we remember those people who died in the holocaust – the meeting consisted of lots of men in suits. Not one woman. 2 million women died.
(I do know there are women on the Holocaust Commission – my question s why when there are 7 people visible around the table are all of them men?)
And finally – on my catch up weekend – I came across the just released list of the 100 most powerful women in the world. Angela Merkel is ranked number 1 – probably politically not completely aligned with me but even so as a woman taking centre stage she made me smile! And it felt very good to read a news story about women, women with power and influence, that could make me smile.
Let’s remember the girls in India. Let’s work to make women more visible, let’s work to make women around the world less afraid, let’s aim for an equitable view of women and men.
I want to hear great stories of women doing brilliant things as I listen to my radio in the morning – not stories of oppression that just make me so sad. And I want those great stories to be because we have a world in which women are free to flourish.6 Comments » | Add your comment
I’ve never been one to drink much water, I don’t really like it, tea’s my poison and failing that a nice diet coke goes down well. During my week doing live below the line however, my relationship with water really changed. It became my crutch. It became my best friend – the one thing that I could have that kept me feeling full and sweetened the horrible taste that was permanently hanging around my mouth from the poor diet I was enduring.
About half way through the week I went to the tap to fill my bottle up, on the way through the office, my eye was drawn to a photo on the wall of a woman collecting water from a dirty pool.
As I stood at the tap letting it run until it was cold enough, I started to think. It’s all very well living on £1 a day, it was really making me empathise with the tedious lack of choice and eating to survive rather than eating for pleasure, but the very people I was doing it for had another problem…they couldn’t just go to a tap and keep hunger at bay with a glass of clean water.
It might shock you to hear that 758 million people are without clean safe water. We live in 2014 and yet millions of people have no access to something as simple as clean water. It really made me think. Without water I would have been more hungry, felt weaker and without doubt would have felt worse. It almost felt like cheating!
The good news is that my efforts living on £1 a day have helped solve just a teeny weeny bit of the problem. Last year Practical Action helped 68,000 improve their access to drinking water and sanitation. The money that I raised might be a drop in the ocean (pardon the pun!) but every little helps and until all 758 million people have access to clean water, living on £1 a day suddenly feels like a walk in the park!No Comments » | Add your comment
As part of the University of Edinburgh’s International Development Week I was asked to take part in a Development Academy Loo Event which aimed to bring together students from architecture, engineering, and international development in a multi-disciplinary workshop where they were challenged to come up with a sanitation solution to three different scenarios; a rural setting in arid farmland, an urban setting with densely crowded housing and a location where houses were built up on stilts above water.
The Practical Action technical brief Types of Toilet and Their Suitability that outlines some of the options available in low-cost toilet design was taken as a starting point and I highlighted a few issues that related to these designs and how they are implemented in practice, some of which is repeated here.
The basic approach of Practical Action is to take people from a situation where we there is no sanitation to one where there is a stepped improvement on what has gone before. This goes hand in hand with improvements in terms of behaviour and in terms of facilities for washing as well as the catering for the waste management issues that part of improved toilet facilities.
Poor Quality Toilets
Although is some locations toilets exist they are in such a poor condition that they do not provide any health benefit. The examples shown below are all from Kenya. And you can see that the waste from the toilet flows into an open channel. This means that there are no benefit.
This is a poorly constructed corrugated toilet block with an open sewage channel in Kibara, an informal settlement (slum) in Nairobi, Kenya. It occupies about a square mile and is home to something like 700,000 people. Drainage consists of “natural” drainage channels formed in the paths and roads, which render the roads impassable during the rainy season; sanitation facilities are insufficient and waste disposal services do not exist. Sanitation is a huge problem.
Rural Toilets The situation for people in rural areas can be quite different to those in more urban areas and the issues faced when it comes to sanitation are particular to the location. The population will be low and dispersed over a greater area. People can be in very remote locations a long way from any urban centre, possibly in a mountainous area which makes transportation of materials and goods difficult.
This photograph of a compost toilet in Peru highlights the remoteness of some homes. This project was managed by Practical Action Latin America (Soluciones Prácticas).
Types of Toilets
In rural areas basic toilets, variations on pit latrines, are common. Beyond open defecation, possibly the simplest approach, is the Arbour Loo (see Toilets That Make Compost by Peter Morgan http://developmentbookshop.com/toilets-that-make-compost.html or download at http://www.ecosanres.org/pdf_files/ToiletsThatMakeCompost.pdf). This is a shallow hole which is filled relatively quickly, once it is full the toilet superstructure (the part above ground) is move to a newly dug hole. The old hole with its composting waste is used to cultivate a tree, hence the name of arbour loo.
Conventional pit latrines (See http://practicalaction.org/a-practical-guide-for-building-a-simple-pit-latrine) are common and are generally dug a little bit deeper. Ventilation Improved Pit Latrines have additional features which mean that flies are trapped within the toilet vent thus reducing the spread of disease.
This school in Kenya (left) has installed ventilation improved toilets which have additional benefits in improved hygiene as flies become tripped within the toilet and die.
This compost toilet (right) is another of Practical Action’s projects. It is built in rural Nepal. Practical Acton has focused on constructing the chambers that are underground while the superstructure is built by the farmer from local materials.
Urban sanitation where there is no sewage systems such as the Kaptembwa and Rhonda estates in Nekuru, Kenya shown below have very densely packed housing which very few toilets. The main issue where the toilets do exist, most probably pit latrines, is that the waste has to be removed. In some places specialist equipment might be used but too often it a full pit latrine has to emptied by hand
Types of Toilets
There are a range of ways in which this is approached. The PeePoo is an approach where you use a single use bag. This then can be passed to a collection point. More conventional in some respects is a regular collection of waste from the home every day or every two or three days, the collection is made by workers who take the waste to a disposal centre. One example of this is the Clean Team Ghana. These approaches get round the problem of waste building up on site which can be an advantage in confined spaces. More common is intermittent emptying such as pit latrines but these need to be emptied in, sometimes this is done by hand when there is no alternative but there are designs for small scale machines such as a vacutug that are capable of getting into small spaces to extract the waste (see Pit Emptying Systems). Pour flush toilets such as Aqua-privy and sceptic tanks also have their own advantages.
More advanced technologies such as bio-sanitation (see Bio-latrines ) can be used in certain locations if there is sufficient funds available. Here an underground biogas chamber is being constructed that will be part of the sanitation system. Then participants were set to design their best solution to a given sanitation problem. There was the dry rural setting, an urban setting and a high water setting. With Practical Action’s urban Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) work households and landlords are encourages to provide better sanitation through an approach of establishing a set of standard six toilet designs which ensures that people know what they are getting, the characteristics are well known and the costs can be accounted for by users and banks thus making is much easier to get a loan for installing a toilet. There are many other considerations that have not been covered here but should be taken into account such as high water tables, rocky conditions and other geological aspects. And then there are the considerations of design for disability which seems to be omitted in many projects
As cost has to be kept to a minimum, then you need to determine what can be achieved with the available money.This example of a simple urinal is from a pilot ecosan facility in London (a suburb in Nakuru) through the ROSA (Resource Oriented Sanitation Options for Peri-urban Africa). While Practical Action has worked in partnership with ROSA (local consortium) Practical Action did not have any direct input in this facility. ROSA is managed through WASTE Netherlands and others. Transportation issues will also play a part.
Here we see a few items being transported by rickshaw in Bangladesh.
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Last month Thomson Reuters Foundation asked its correspondents what stories they thought would make headlines in 2014.
In response I asked directors at Practical Action to draw up 10 pressing issues they thought would make headlines in 2014. Here is their list. I’d welcome any feedback on the points or any issues that you think should have been included.
- Climate change and economic growth will collide
Our changing climate will bring yet more extreme weather events. The trend started by record cold temperatures in the USA and severe flooding in the UK will continue unabated with more countries affected by climate related disasters like Typhoon Haiyan. By contrast world leaders will continue to ignore the crisis and instead push for universal and sustained economic growth. In 2014 this divergence will become more pronounced with increasing voices starting to question what price we are willing to pay to protect the climate.
- ‘Technology justice’ will come of age
‘Appropriate new technology’ will help lift many more people out of poverty. Until recently in rich countries technology has been something to consume, not to discuss. 2014 will see the role of technology highlighted in global meetings culminating in the United Nations climate change talks in Peru in December. This will help start an important debate about whether we can deliver ‘technology justice’ for the poor.
- Projects not meeting the Millennium Development Goals will struggle to get funding
With the deadline for the MDGs now just over a year away we will see resources directed towards getting as close to the targets as possible. Large scale projects delivering large numbers of beneficiaries will be favoured. Small scale work – even vital work – which does not meet the targets will find it increasingly hard to attract funding.
- Political instability, insecurity and conflicts will continue in Bangladesh and other developing countries
Developing countries will make headlines around the world but again for the wrong reasons. In Bangladesh nearly 60% of the days between October and December 2013 were marked by political strikes, closures, violence and insecurity. These trends will continue in 2014 with many developing countries suffering heavy economic losses and the poorest being the most hard hit.
As more nations become middle income countries, donors will understandably withdraw their financial support and instead focus on the poorest. But there are many poor people who live in middle income countries. In 2014 if more international development organisations withdraw, there will be generations of people who will not escape poverty. Southern national governments will try to step in but how effectively?
- Deaths associated with uncollected urban waste in Africa will rise
In Southern Africa, over 22 million people have no access to a clean water supply and sanitation facilities, especially in urban areas. In urban slums between 30-60 per cent of all the solid waste goes uncollected, a figure which will increase in 2014. As a result many more people will die of associated diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera and dysentery.
- Mobile technology will help transform the lives of the poor
Mobile phone technology will continue to rapidly change the face of communication in poor countries. By the end of 2014 out of the seven billion people in the world, approximately six billion will have a mobile phone and most will be in developing countries. In response companies, governments and NGOs will use phones to do everything from transferring money to letting people know of an impending disaster using a text alert.
- Renewable energy will struggle to attract the investment it needs
Progress in exploiting shale oil, shale gas and other unconventional fossil fuel sources will erode any incentives the big oil companies have to work on renewables as future alternative revenue streams. At the same time this will tempt governments to focus on short term energy security issues rather than long term environmental sustainability issues such as climate change. In this atmosphere further progress in climate talks or the management of carbon will be very difficult.
- The inter-dependency between food, water and energy will become more pronounced
The need to think about food, water and energy in a holistic manner will become ever more apparent as trade-offs between food and energy crops, agricultural inputs and food prices and the scarcity of water in many parts of the world increase. In developing countries this will result in continuing conflict over resources and globally more environmental refugees seeking a better life.
- More poor people will get energy
The recent focus on energy access issues at an international level will reduce the numbers of people lacking electricity or still cooking over open fires. However, the current over reliance of markets and private sector finance to solve the problem will leave big holes in cover for the rural poor, where returns on investment for much of the needed infrastructure will not be high enough to attract private investment.No Comments » | Add your comment
I love going to meetings at the innocent drinks’ offices. Apart the from the funky surroundings (hanging basket chairs, fake grass, table tennis tables in the kitchen) where else do you get given a nice little brown bag at the end of a meeting and told to help yourself to the drinks cabinet. The temptation is great – all those lovely smoothies, peaches and apricots, mango and passion fruit, and my personal favourite – pineapples, bananas and coconut.
But I’m not writing this to plug the deliciousness of innocent’s drinks or the virtues of innocent’s office, many though they are (and by the way, as it says on the side of their drinks’ cartons, anyone can visit their offices if they make an appointment), but to also describe the amazing support they give to organisations like Practical Action.
innocent’s project support in Peru
So this is about innocent abroad – actually innocent foundation abroad – which has supported Practical Action’s work in Peru since 2007 when they funded our project providing water, sanitation and energy to communities in the high Andes, 5,000m above sea level. These are families living, cooking and sleeping in simple mud walled homes, thatched with straw. Being so few they are largely forgotten or ignored by local government when it comes to providing basic services. Water was collected from streams, often contaminated by animal waste and human faeces, (open defecation was the norm) and their only power sources were using kerosene or burning dry dung, their remoteness making it unlikely that the national grid will ever reach them. With innocent foundation’s support this has all changed.
Water, sanitation and energy
Practical Action, together with the communities, has built eco-san toilets, and as importantly, communities are now aware of the dangers to their health that open defecation brings. Piped water is available, filtered at household level to reduce the risk of diarrhoea.
And they have power, harnessing the renewable energies of the sun with small solar panels provided by Practical Action. This simple technology is enabling these alpaca farmers to increase their alpaca wool production with small electric spinning machines, bringing them increased incomes, enabling them to better support their children’s education and health needs.
Who would have thought that drinking an innocent strawberry and banana smoothie could make such a difference?
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What would your life be like without lighting or power? And can you imagine living without a toilet? This was the reality for Ravalina and her family, who live in the Canchis region of Peru, way up in the Andes, making a living from selling the wool spun from her herd of alpacas.
Supported by innocent foundation
The innocent foundation supported this Practical Action project financially and they have made a great video about our work – take a look at the Chain of Good.
Here are the five things that have made a huge difference to Ravalina’s life. I certainly couldn’t imagine living without any of them, but this my order of priority for me. Do you agree?
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If you think your job is bad, just read this interview that landed on my desk today from our team in Kenya. It is of a man who empties toilets for a living.
More than 2.5 billion people live without sanitation. Open sewers overflowing with rubbish and human waste run through the centre of urban slums.
Practical Action is working in a slum in Nakuru. There are toilets there – just not as we know them. They are basically just pits which are used by 240 people every day. They fill up quickly!
Imagine having a toilet that you can’t flush and you just keep going and going?! That’s the smell. It’s hard to bear.
There’s only one way these toilets can get emptied
People like Anthony have to empty the toilets – many of them with their bare hands. He has suffered abuse and discrimination as a result of doing the job. People in his community shun him and won’t go anywhere near him.
This is his story:
“We work on the pit latrines, where we use exhausters (pipes through which waste material is emitted) to pull out the human waste. The exhauster sucks out the lighter, biodegradable material. However, there are pieces of cloth, diapers and sanitary pads that cannot be removed using the exhaust pipe. They block the pipes and really slow us down. It forces us to go down into the latrine and pull out the human waste with our bare hands.
“Initially we always did this work with our bare hands and feet. The maggots and filth scared us. We were resented by the very people who created the mess but because the job was so filthy, nobody wanted to associate with us, so we worked at night like thieves.
“The money is not enough to take care of school fees, household needs, rent and all our other needs.”
Practical Action is working in Nakuru to improve the quality of life for slum communities of 190,000 people, by providing access to safe, hygenic toilets and hand washing facilities. And we’re working with Anthony and other pit emptiers to improve their health, enable them to provide an essential service to their community and raise their status.
This World Toilet Day I’m counting my blessings that I have such a fantastic job and if you are too please consider helping people like Anthony and his community to get access to better sanitation, improve their health and restore their dignity.
Please take action and help people access sanitation through a new appeal Practical Action have launched called ‘Safer Cities’. It is being backed by the UK government who will match fund donations pound for pound, helping us to do more vital work to improve the lives of poor and vulnerable people living in slum communities. This means that if you can give us £20 the Government will also give us £20, making your donation go even further!