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Singing the Gospel of Ecosan – A Kenyan Toilet Preaching

Johannes Orodi in Mwala Primary School, Ukambani
(source: Paul Mboya, GTZ-Kenya, Oct. 2009)

Johannes the preacher - this is how Johannes Orodi Odhiambo’s followers and GTZ colleagues affectionately call him. At a workshop in the Ugunja region near Lake Victoria in Western Kenya we could witness him explaining an ecological sanitation (ecosan) technology - the urine diversion dehydration toilet – in a very special way. He said: “What God has separated man should not unite”. On his question “Isn’t it right?” his audience answered “Yes it is!” in an almost frenetic kind of way.

The concept behind the ecosan technology is really simple: The nutrients that one person excretes in one year, are sufficient to grow 250kg maize. Not only in times of increasing fertiliser prices and exacerbated food shortage, like in the hunger crisis in East Africa in 2009, this is a promising approach to guarantee food security. Furthermore ecosan systems are often saving water. But possibilities are going even further: The biomass that is collected in the dehydration toilets can be used to generate biogas which is used for cooking. This protects the climate, since less forest must be cleared in order to obtain firewood.

“What God has separated man should not unite”
(Mwala Primary School, Ukambani, source: Paul Mboya, GTZ-Kenya, Oct. 2009)

For Johannes Orodi mainstreaming ecosan is more about breaking taboos than only talking about technical and environmental aspects. The current cultural tradition in the region is that the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law are not allowed to use the same toilet. Thus the daughter-in-law is forced to relieve herself outside at night, so nobody can see her. With the new toilet this is different: Now the daughter-in-law is asked to use the same toilet, because her urine is precious as it will be used as fertiliser by the family. At this point Johannes was coming up with a surprising perception: Now the toilet is no longer a simple toilet, but a factory for fertiliser production. (Smiles in the audience.) So from now on a student, who excuses himself in order to go to the bathroom during the lesson, would say to the teacher: “Sir, I ask for permission to add my natural resources to the factory.” The audience was laughing out loud and people understood the potential of their new toilet. The story of the “factory” is readily spread and arouses interest everywhere.

The regional health agent who is performing the workshop together with Johannes, reports that many people come down with cholera in the region. This is often caused by absent or insufficient sanitation and hygiene education. The pit latrines are regularly flooded during rainy season. Thus the faeces are steadily flushed in the water bodies or wells and pollute them with faecal germs. As a consequence cholera and other water-borne diseases are occurring and often these diseases end fatal. Since the ecosan team is active in the region, the number of people that are ill with cholera is continuously decreasing.

Mango and banana plants were distributed to the users of UDDTs to support economic gain from urine and feaces use (source: Johannes O. Odhiambo, GTZ-Kenya, 2010)

Moreover experiences have shown that in addition to the health advantages people’s benefits from ecosan are also of an economic nature. Farmers use the urine and the composted remnants in order to increase their yield. Hagen von Bloh, who supervised the project as a GTZ project leader until the beginning of 2009, explains that the regional farmers recognised that vegetables that are grown on urine-fertilised soils are much tastier than vegetable form unfertilised soils.
The Kenyan people and the persons in charge at the water ministry are receiving support with the implementation by the “Ecosan Promotion Project” since the middle of 2006. This project is embedded in the reform of the complete Kenyan water sector and is supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the European Union (EU) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). The Ecosan Promotion Project is carried out by the GTZ.

UDDT build by the Ecosan Promotion Project in Mwala Primary School
(source: Paul Mboya, GTZ-Kenya, Oct. 2009)

Meanwhile, about 1000 urine diversion dehydration toilets (UDDTs) are built for several thousand people in Western Kenya. Until the middle of 2010, 50,000 Kenyan people are going to benefit from different ecosan projects in households, schools, prisons and public toilets at bus stations and market squares.

Further information:


Paul Okan-Adjetey –   – (September 3, 2010 at 6:11 AM)  

The ecosan story, told as never before!

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