Composting toilets

The sanitation guidelines outlined in the December 1991 issue of Footsteps give readers a helpful guide to the relevant issues in sanitation. My point is that other toilet systems, like composting, should be included in any survey of sanitation programmes.

A good sanitation system should be pleasant for people to use, prevent pollution and protect public health. A properly designed composting toilet is odourless. It not only contains excreta but processes it into a useful product that is safe to handle and appears much like earth. Added to soil, the compost is an excellent soil conditioner and fertiliser. The composting toilet is an important option for a sanitation programme. 

Laura Orlando, ReSource Institute, Massachusetts, USA

Thanks for your wonderful publication - it is informative and relevant. I appreciated your nearly full edition on the latrine. A different approach to sanitation is needed almost everywhere, as water over-use and pollution as well as disease are growing problems.

We use a composting toilet and would like to make a few suggestions that would add efficiency to the breakdown of waste into a safer and more valuable end product:

  • Daily introduction of coarse cellulose (sawdust is best but many other things such as shredded plant material will do). This will lighten the pile and help get oxygen to micro-organisms for aerobic activity.
  • Air vents of some sort, perhaps pipes from above.
  • Sloped bottom with drain to aid in drawing off excess liquids (this is not necessary in very dry areas).
  • Drain near bottom for liquids.
  • Access at bottom to poke or turn pile and remove finished product.

I think these changes could be made without adding too much cost and would be worthwhile. I could send more information to anyone interested.

Lee Piche Box 957, Hillsboro NH 03244, USA

Richard Franceys comments...

Composting toilets are wonderful things if they are managed correctly. They can produce odourless material that makes an excellent soil conditioner as Laura describes. But to do that requires all the extras that Lee describes, including the drains, air vents, bottom access and the regular introduction of vegetable matter. Where people are prepared to invest extra time and the money for construction costs, then composting toilets can be recommended. However, experience of projects in several countries has shown that the required management usually does not continue beyond the initial phase of sanitation projects. Studies from Vietnam, the country where they have been used most commonly, show serious levels of infection resulting from early use of the material as fertiliser before it has fully composted.

Striga control

I wish to comment on the article about striga control in Issue No 9. Although it is not common here, I became involved in the fight to control it through the cultivation of sunnhemp (Crotolaria ochroleuca). Some years ago a missionary priest near Tabora, where striga is very common, discovered that sunnhemp will kill striga completely. He ordered huge quantities of sunnhemp seed that was used successfully in that area.

In addition, we have developed alley-cropping with sunnhemp; this is very simple. When the field is ploughed and sowed with maize or sorghum, sunnhemp is sown all over the field  (10 kilos mixed with 20 kilos of sand per acre).

At the time of weeding, sunnhemp is left standing in every third row without minding that it will kill the maize. After seven or eight months, the sunnhemp seeds are harvested and the dry stems are placed in the furrows and buried. Sunnhemp is a legume and adds nutrients to the soil. It provides good soil cover and prevents weed growth. Continue this process in the following years and you will have sustainable agriculture free from striga.

If you would like more information on sunnhemp, please request material. Alley cropping with sunnhemp is the agriculture of the future for the tropics.

Father Gerald Rupper, St Benedict’s Abbey, P O Peramiho, Tanzania, E Africa

Local treatment for whitlow

Thank you for the newspaper Footsteps. It helps me a lot in my work and it contains much to share with others. I was interested to read about the neem treatment. It is good to hear about different local treatments.

It happened that one of my village health workers told me about a local treatment for whitlow (an abscess on the finger) that he had found successful. Until now we treated this painful infection with expensive antibiotics and ointment, but often these are either not available or they are too expensive to use.

  • Grind together 1 small onion and 1Ú8 cup salt.
  • Mix together with 1Ú2 cup of cooked corn dough (cooked to a firm consistency).
  • Apply this paste to the whitlow several times a day and repeat for 3 to 5 days.

I hope some of your readers may find this helpful.

From a village health worker in Ghana (name withheld).

Dr Ted Lankester adds... If available, the normal medical treatment of lancing and antibiotics is still the best to use for the treatment of whitlows. This poultice is a useful addition.

Traditional labour treatment

Many of the points concerning this Knotty Problem in Issue No 7, concerning Anaustasia who suffered a ruptured uterus following treatment from a local medicine man, have already been looked at.

It is important that the whole community is taught about health matters. People will then learn the dangers of combining hospital treatment and native medicine. It is important that husbands as well as wives should be educated. In some cases, the wife will reject native treatment but her husband may order it. Mothers-in-law need to be taught not to interfere with their daughters-in-law’s hospital treatment.

It would be very helpful for antenatal waiting rooms to be built near hospitals for pregnant mothers likely to have complications. These mothers could then stay near the hospital when the time of birth approaches. Most mothers resort to native treatment because of lack of transport and bad roads. Local medicine men can be educated and taught about correct dosages. Many have improved through this method.

The root that caused such strong contractions should be researched. Something good will come out of it in the future.

Mrs E M I Nwachukwu Matron - Sick Bay, Okigwe Imo State, Nigeria

Valuable lessons

I wish to congratulate you and your organisation on the the production of Footsteps. This paper has always reached us through your kind contributions and it is a very handy paper for us who are community development workers. We use the articles as teaching lessons to community members.

So far we have trained them on building ferro-cement tanks and tree nursery establishment. We use the Bible study greatly to relate to the lessons taught. We are are very thankful for your help.

Hellen Yego, Diocese of Eldoret, Kenya

AIDS, famine and war

Thank you for sending us Pas à Pas (the French version of Footsteps). We have welcomed it and read it with enthusiasm and great interest and hope that it will be a way of encouraging our women’s Christian group.

Certain articles such as ‘Our Christian response to AIDS’, the Bible studies, ‘Soil fertility’ and ‘Gardening for better nutrition’ have further encouraged us to work together to create a spirit of harmony and community development.

Pas à Pas has awakened us, especially in these critical times when AIDS, famine and war are raging in our society. It is in this sense that we have studied very carefully the Bible study of Peter Batchelor in Issue No 7 on the theme ‘What is our responsibility before God and before our neighbours?’ What is our responsibility for our brothers and sisters who are in despair because of the length of the war, the increase in stealing and young vagrants, mines everywhere, increased famine, the inability of doctors to cure AIDS and the lack of aid. What is our role?

Our group tries to help materially with our limited means, but also spiritually by giving encouragement to people and helping them understand that Gods’ supernatural intervention begins where that of man ends (Mark 5:25-29).

Mme Nyirandemeye Pauline Femmes en Action Pour Christ BP 75, Kibungo, Rwanda