Monday, April 16, 2012

sewage treatment

NPR story (link below)
A friend pointed me to a recent article on NPR on the sewer system - or, more accurately, the lack thereof - in Port-au-Prince.  I live here, and I had no idea there was none at all.  I don't suppose it surprises me, though.  I see the drainage ditches and canals every day.  They handle a lot more than runoff from the rain, as I mentioned in my last post.  Think of those whose daily job it is to clean them or to empty the septic tanks. 

You do need to know, however, that it isn't quite as obvious as the article would have it seem - and there are certainly plenty of homes which have septic systems in use apparently much like the ones at home.  Remember, the US has plenty of locations which rely on septic systems rather than piped sewage treatment.  Just not places the size of Port-au-Prince.

So, yes, it is bad. No, it is not as though you walked about surrounded by raw sewage wherever you went.

I wonder if much of it is also the built-up hillside around the edge of the city, homemade neighborhoods, unplanned, unwired, unwatered, so to speak.  I have been fortunate enough to live with nice facilities and to use them elsewhere; I am too much an American to do without decent ones.  I remember using a few rural outhouses as a child, and I can live without hot water, but I don't think I'd manage if all of Port-au-Prince was like the situation described in the article. I trust that God would give me the grace to do so if I were called to, actually, but so far, no.

Fortunately, the article describes not only the sewage situation in the city, but also what some people are doing to make a difference.  I was especially impressed with the description of the toilet facilities in a new school. (When did I start being impressed by toilet facilities? But I am, truly.)

[T]here are signs of hope. Only a hundred yards or so from the outhouse is a tidy-looking school for 170 students — with a brand-new, honest-to-god toilet.

The school's principal, Wilfred Elma, proudly shows it off. There are separate chambers, all spotlessly clean and odor-free. "This is for the boys, this is for the teacher, and this is for the girls," Elma says. "This is the first time they are using a toilet that smells so good."

"I think it's amazing!" Rouzier says. "These children have never had the experience of using a toilet! I don't think many ... in North America understand what that represents — that it's the first time they're using a proper toilet!"

And not only that, but this toilet is a biodigester. It recycles waste and turns it into methane gas. The principal says they'll use the gas for cooking.

It's a small step toward solving an overwhelming problem.

I must say, I'm also impressed with the plans to use the methane gas. Maybe we need to start using some of these (or more of them, if we already are) in the US.  If you really can make use of it, why not take advantage of it?  Goodness knows we need more renewable energy sources in the US, but even more so here where there isn't enough to go around.  Not only am I impressed with toilets, I'm also really pleased when there is power. 

Now, revenons a nos moutons, as they say. Back to the Port-au-Prince sewage article.

The best news in all of this is that they are building a treatment plant.  There may be no pipes to bring it in, but it can be hauled by truck.  Once treated, it will be put to good use.

description of the new sewage treatment plant outside Port-au-Prince
see link to full NPR article below
Amazingly, this plant and another one 12 miles away that's about to open will handle the city's entire output. The sludge will be used for agricultural compost, and the detoxified effluent will irrigate a grove of trees to be planted around the treatment ponds. "Come back in two years, and this will look like a park," Etienne says.

Soon there will be treatment plants like this one in seven other Haitian cities. "We already have the funds," he says. The money comes from a post-earthquake donation by the Spanish government.

Things are definitely changing around here.  Awareness of health and sanitation issues has grown by leaps and bounds in the last couple of years.  It's heartbreaking that it was jump-started by a cholera epidemic, but at least there is the hope of something new and different coming into being.  I hope someday everyone will be able to afford a real bathroom. 

Go into yours, look around, and give thanks for it.  And if that feels strange to you, know that this is just another sign of how much we have and take for granted.

You can  read the full article or listen to the radio program here:

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