Sanitation for the Developing World

I have thought of the problems you often see in developing countries that tend to be extremely repulsive to western societies, and for good reason: poor sanitation. Human waste problems are rampant in developing nations. I always think of the movie Slumdog Millionaire and the outhouse scene. Far too many people live in this barely-worth-the-name sanitation solution. i have had some ideas, but the best variation on the theme i have seen yet is from Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) Unilever, and Clean Team Ghana. (article here: ) The model this goes upon may seem archaic to people used to living with the modern equivalent of the Roman Aqueduct system; we tend to think of it like an outhouse, or a portable potty. But please, stop for a moment, there are advantages to this system, and they are many.

First: The cartridge system keeps the traditional stink to a minimum. They are basically sealed until the flush happens. This is a HUGE improvement over standard dug outhouses, and less harmful than the chemical fragrances used by portable toilets at outdoor concerts and such. it also allows for easier pickup, it is basically a switch-and-presto system. no muss, no fuss. The collection would be cheap, and there is benefits to the collection company(ies) that would perform the service to help keep costs low, or nonexistent. Which brings me to…

Second: the local storage solution can be  used as a local business model. Currently, this model with WSUP  is taking the collected waste to a municipal treatment site. This requires constant maintenance, governmental personnel, and is a drain on taxes and the working poor. If these smaller, localized collection drop-off locations can be planned correctly, there are several benefits to be realized. One benefit is the fertilizer from the fermentation and decay by bacterial means of the waste. In developing countries, this is a multiplicity of benefits. The reduction of public defecation and urination cleans up disease carrying waste, and the fertilizer is a concentrated form that can either be bought and distributed by the government as a free benefit for using the system, or it can be sold by the collection companies as a means to offset the cost of collection, either way it benefits the agricultural societies that tend to be the ones with the greatest sanitation problems, and it provides a lowering of costs for the working poor, and for those who have no money, while also providing an increased job market, and thereby an increased economic flow within a localized geographic area. Secondly, the gases that are released by the breakdown process are collectible, and saleable. Methane is the most  productive of these gases, as a cooking gas, and possibly heating as well. But the Carbon Dioxide, and Hydrogen Sulfide gases have industrial uses, and would create a localized supply for, what would be at least in the beginning, a small industrial complex. the sale of these gases would also offset the cost of collection. For developing countries, or at least areas, foreign aid, investment, or just local government investment, would be able to provide free sanitation to the most remote, and poor, constituents of their population. The poorest and most remote of the population brings me to the third benefit, one not realized by the capitalist side, but one for the governments, and the population itself.

Thirdly: By concentrating collections into smaller, economically feasible collection points, another benefit is created; Health and pollutant monitoring. If 2 or 3 villages have their waste collected into a local collection facility, one that breaks it down into fertilizer and gases, it will naturally concentrate an important means of monitoring what is going into the people in the even of a health crisis: their very own waste. For the very rural, very poor parts of the world, this is a very important piece. for the developing world, it provides local clustering for outbreak scenarios that is incredibly easy to monitor. Sampling small nodules of waste can identify sources of disease and pollution quickly, and accurately. This is important in countries where developing industries have the potential to do great, and irreparable harm. Also, for outbreaks of diseases that occur in the tropics, and other places, where on person coming from a trip to the country before hopping on a plane, can infect the world, this is a major benefit to the world that is worth monitoring. Small, accurately labeled samples, can be taken for governmental or other health agency collection and monitoring. The last benefit on my list is a bit more intangible too those used to the aqueduct system.

Fourth: The lack of centralized municipal plumbing and treatment facilities. This does several things; one, it either massively limits, or completely eliminates, public burden of sanitation. This is a striking contrast to the western world where the sewer piping, waste treatment facilities, and personnel are all publicly paid for. It also eliminates another public burden: digging and laying those large pipelines. Not having to massively engineer slopes, flow, and also eliminating the need for electrical pumps, never creates a public cost, while still providing jobs for the populace, but in a more scalable, and sustainable way. It creates businesses, and careers, not just 1-time work that mostly benefits large, foreign companies. Another subsidiary eddy in this economic flow is the fuel the collection vehicles would use: since most vehicles that would do this would be diesel powered, biodiesel can be used instead, thereby creating a demand, and supply, for high-yield, low value crops. Small rural farmers can not only farm for subsistence, many root vegetables that are not edible, or are less nutritionally dense for people, can be farmed more easily, and sold for creating biodiesel. This gives the farmers a constant market, allows for betterment of living conditions in areas that may not grow all food crops well, and provides another local industry by which local governments can sustainably tax.

While large foreign companies can, and likely will, supply the raw things like the vehicles, and many of the farm tools and implements, not to mention the huge market for designing and developing the smaller, more modular collection-site facilities, it provides local people with a sustainable base industry on which many others can build, as well as creating an atmosphere that allows foreign aid and investment to flourish. Immediate benefits to the education, industry, and health of local people will not only raise the standard of living, but provide the local governments with a strong base of public support, and a legacy of humanitarian industry that could serve to model the rest of the world. Not just Africa, also India, Island nations, and South and Central America can all benefit from this business model. (Latin America has a humanitarian streak that continues, and would lend itself to this model well, link here: ) Let us hope, for all the wonderful poor, but hard-working and independent people of the world, that this will be adopted, and invested in, by the rich nations of the world. it is an investment in a future market and economy, it is an investment in independent business, and lastly, it is an investment in the welfare of people, and the world. there is NO long-term downside to this. There is an inherent flexibility to new technology, a much easier method of deployment of such technology, and a lower cost of maintenance, and a lowered cost and impact of any disaster. The modularity, local and global commercial opportunities with their associated tax revenue, and the multi-fold  health benefits to almost half of the world’s population makes this a model the world, and western industry, cannot afford to lose. This is how the world will continue to improve, this is one step of many, but it is a huge one.

Please, titans of industry, Giants of philanthropy, angel investors, and officials of government, hear this plea: Implement this program, everywhere you can, as much as possible, challenge our existing commercial industries to rise, and meet this unanswered demand. the children who die every day from something simple like diarrhea need it, the farmers who have to continually deforest land because their crops take too much nutrition out of the soil need it, the impoverished people in countries that have all the good land, but none of the needed help need it, and most of all, we that live in the developed world need this. We need to believe in the Soul of industry again, like when the motor car changed transportation, when refrigeration staved off food poisoning, and we eradicated smallpox. We have lost the Soul of industry, and we need it back. Let’s start here, shall we?




One thought on “Sanitation for the Developing World

  1. Pingback: Sanitation for the Developing World | andrewsaysblog

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