Haiti ‘can’

| March 17, 2014 | 0 Comments

Already this year in South Africa, at least one child has died as a consequence of poor school sanitation (see, for example, http://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/limpopo/mom-blames-schoolfor- boy-s-toilet-death-1.1635514#.UujapBD8LnA).

Around the world, every 21 seconds another dies from a water-related illness. These are facts that matter to two Matts – Matt Damon, film star and co-founder of water.org, and Matt Gunn, founder of Eco Commode. The two men have been influential in supporting World Toilet Day, which occurs in late November every year.

Now Damon has lent public support to Gunn, who was deeply moved by a visit to Haiti. He was dispatched there by a private donor to build a sustainable school after the catastrophic 2010 earthquake. Refusing to accept the unreasonably high cost of building pit latrines – common in both South Africa and many other developing nations – Gunn decided to explore the composting toilet model. “It was clean, no flies, and it didn’t stink, nor did the compost pile some 15 feet away.”

Since the earthquake, says Gunn, at least 30% of Haitian citizens have no access to private toilets. Sewage is rarely treated effectively and waste quickly finds its way into gutters and rivers. Sawdust is the magical ingredient in composting systems, says Gunn. Spread over the toilet after each use, it provides the carbon source that helps break down the nitrogen and also traps oxygen. When the heat reaches above 131 degrees Fahrenheit, harmful bacteria die.

Gunn believes this system could solve sanitation problems in schools around the world. As a result of his decision, Gunn was able to start a food garden at the school. “Haiti is a country where the ground is severely depleted and most of the country has been deforested. Once people understand the composting process, it brings it full circle. In solving one problem, we solve another,” he says. 

Category: Autumn 2014

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