Monday, January 04, 2010

Liquid Gold, Part 2

Two women with a shared interest in Haiti have used their engineering skills to develop toilets that recycle wastes back into fertilizer for growing crops.

The toilets store human poop, then it is moved to a compost pile where the waste breaks down for a couple of years. After composting has killed the pathogens in the waste, the poop can then be used as fertilizer for farming.

The innovation is great way to help small farmers and gardeners afford to raise food to feed themselves. The price of buying fertilizer is beyond what most Haitians can afford.

From CNN, this video helps explain how the toilets work.

From the accompanying printed story on SOIL, writer Eliott C. McLaughlin gives us some background on how the women became so involved with Haiti.

Brownell, who has an environmental engineering master's from the University of California-Berkeley, first went to Haiti in 1998 to install solar panels at a health clinic in Le Borgne. The panels didn't arrive for two months.

"I was hanging around with not really any project to do, and I really felt like the community took me in, took care of me, even though I didn't really have much to offer them at that point," Kramer said.

She studied Creole and practiced crocheting, cooking and washing clothes by hand. The Haitians made fun of her ineptitude at the latter task, Brownell said, so she spent time "trying to perfect my skills" as her instructor's 2-year-old son, Jeffrey, toddled around the washbasin.

Brownell eventually finished the solar panel project and returned to school at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. When she went back to Haiti two years later, she learned that Jeffrey had died of diarrhea and dehydration -- a death Brownell calls "totally preventable" if Jeffrey had simply had access to clean water and safe place to use the bathroom.

"This was something that really touched my heart as a way for me to use engineering to make that connection with the social aspect of helping people to live their lives better," Brownell said.

Kramer, who studied "nitrogen cycles" while earning her doctorate at Stanford University, is a human rights observer first drawn to Haiti's political movements. She met Brownell at a Mexican restaurant in Berkeley in 2005 and quickly found common threads in their interests.

"Even with the all of these acute human rights violations that were happening in Haiti at the time," explained Kramer, "the most prevalent human rights abuse is really poverty and the fact that people didn't have access to their basic needs like food, sanitation and water."

1 comment:

Bruce Princeton said...

Now this is what we call - not giving up. It's always nice too see miracles of science in enhancing the way lives are lived.