Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Unglamorous Dirty Work

I spent awhile in the cholera hospital last week. There were about a dozen patients being cared for at the time.  Whatever you do, don't get cholera. It's awful.

So is typhoid fever, come to think of it.  Typhoid has been endemic in Haiti ever since I've been going there.  It's pretty awful too.

Come to think of it, diarrhea from intestinal parasites is endemic too.  About one of every three children is believed to be infected at any given time.

Infectious diarrhea is the #1 cause of illness and death on La Gonave. Not malaria. Not TB. Not HIV/AIDS. In Haiti, diarrhea kills more than any one of these diseases.

I have spoken passionately in the past about the need to bring clean (and close) water to every village on the island. And we work to that end. But also critical to improving the overall health and dignity of La Gonave is to establish a culture where sanitation and hygeine are held in high importance by the people who live there.

Sadly, we have discovered that fewer than 10% of the households on the island have a latrine, a fact which factors into why the surface springs (from which so many islanders draw their water) are tainted with disease-causing microorganisms.

One of our visions for the island is to see the day when every home has a good working latrine.  The deal we are making with each household is that, if they will dig a good, deep pit, we will provide them with enough cement (two bags, 20 bucks worth) to build a good base and toilet over it. They take care of the rest, then, erecting whatever shelter/privacy they can from the materials they have.

It's working.  We have our eyes on one community (about a hundred family households) that is on track to have 100% latrine use by its citizens by the end of this year.

We must not avoid the unglamorous dirty work in our business of delivering dignity and hope.


Granny X said...

Just curious but what do they do when it gets full? I know what we would do here in the US but what options do they have for latrine emptying?

Steve said...

Great question. The name of the method we are promoting is known as "arborloo." It has been extensively used and successfully adopted in many other regions of the third world. When the pit fills to about a foot from the top, another pit is dug and a bunch of men gather to drag/carry the concrete base over to the new pit. The old pit is then filled to the top with dirt and a tree is planted in that spot.

Granny X said...

OH! I didn't read close enough the first time...I thought the whole thing was lined with cement. So by having the pit the earth will filter the contents keeping it from getting into the springs and contains the solids so then they are useful for fertilizer for the trees! Great concept and I remember from when I was there that many of the trees had been cut so that also encourages them to replenish the trees too.