The name ECOSAN comes from Ecological Sanitation. It is one of CREPA’s (Centre régional pour l’eau potable et l’assainissement à moindre coût which is the regional centre for cost effective drinking water and sanitation) programs since 2002 on financing from the Swedish cooperation.
ECOSAN is a new sanitation approach that rural communities in West Africa have been using more and more over the last few years. It aims to use our urine and feces to protect the health and environment by a sanitizing human excrement in order to use them as agricultural fertilizer. Many diseases are caused by poorly managing excrement and urine, by unsanitary hygiene practices, as well as the lack of information on hygiene and sanitation for the populations. Separating urine and feces at the source facilitates the necessary treatment for safe reuse. It is a new and integrated approach in managing soil and liquid waste. Dry toilets are toilets that use no water and allows our excrement to be reintroduced into agricultural cycles after a transformation process.
ECOSAN is based on reusing and conserving natural resources. Its objectives are to protect human health, increase soil fertility and reduce environmental damage. It is a sustainable solution for villages and communities that do not have drinking water or sewage systems.
The methodology uses latrines which are two above ground ditches with heated plates. Inside a cabin, there are two squat holes, one per ditch. The holes are used in an alternating manner to allow for complete dehydration of fecal matter that is found in the ditch that is out of service. A heating plate installed at the back of the ditch heats the inside of the cabin.
The plate, which is preferably black to capture the sun’s rays, is regularly fed by ashes (or limestone, earth or wood chips according to the WECF), that will absorb moisture and increase the alkalinity (high Ph) of fecal matter which kills pathogens.
After six months to a year depending on the context, the heating plate can be opened and the ditch emptied. Now odorless and powdery, the excrement can be disposed of in a field like organic fertilizer. Composted fecal matter is a good way to enrich soil and can be mixed with earth or covered by earth prior to harvesting or planting.
What makes this project unique and creative is that this kind of ecological sanitation is enhanced by the technology used which gives value to our urine and feces, and after safe treatment, is reused as agricultural fertilizer with less odor, no flies and less loss of nitrogen. This practice is not current and is relatively rare. Traditional use means defecating in the open, mixing urine and fecal matter (with less significant consequences), non-recycled excrement.
The project’s social value is that it contributes to reducing the lack of food safety (improved agricultural production) and the poverty of the populations through improved soil fertility by using human excrement combined with water and soil conservation techniques. It helps protect water resources, reduces the prevalence of illnesses linked to lack of hygiene and valorizes the nutrients in human excrement.
This approach was developed in ten western and central African countries. The Regional Centre for Cost Effective Drinking Water and Sanitation (CREPA) undertook a research program on ECOSAN in 2002. The objective is to touch one million inhabitants with ECOCSAN projects on a large scale.
The need for better sanitation in rural areas is enormous. In many countries particularly in rural areas, fecal-related diseases and those linked to poverty and unhealthy living conditions represent a significant proportion of mortality and morbidity. Poor management of excrement, unsanitary hygiene practices and lacking information on hygiene and sanitation for the populations are the main causes of this situation. Therefore, the project’s triggering factors are: the need to participate in ecology in a concrete way by proposing something efficient.
In order to avoid soiling the drinking water, prevent disease, protect the environment, fertilize the earth and push towards sustainable solutions based on safe recycling of human excrement. Built with simple and reproducible processes that are easy to use and maintain, they promote local autonomy.
In an age where prices of chemical fertilizers are skyrocketing and soil fertility is diminishing everyday, fertilizing is a problem for farmers in western and central African countries where the main activity is farming. The latrine has several benefits: It helps reduce bad odors; it decreases the number of flies and mosquitos that contribute to fighting diarrhea and malaria; it is built with local sustainable materials.
An ECOSAN latrine provides a nicer environment that is easier to maintain. It also provides quality fertilizer which is used to fertilize soil and in this way improve agricultural output for producers. The cost of excavation is very economical. Dealing with climate change and the rising costs of fertilizer particularly chemical ones, using natural fertilizers from ECOSAN latrines is a long-term investment. That is how this country’s producers see their agricultural production improve.