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The International Water Institute (IHE) presented, on the occasion of World Toilet Day, celebrated on November 19, a portable toilet for emergency situations that can be transferred to refugee and displaced camps, and that stores organic waste separately for produce energy.
The idea of this day is to remember that some 4,500 million people lack a safe toilet in their home connected to the sewage system, and almost 900 million defecate in the open air: in rivers, fields or streets. Figures that are difficult to assume, which form the backbone of the work of the first European laboratory dedicated to the investigation of faecal sludge, opened at the International Water Institute IHE Delft, in the Dutch city.
“If we can record how many times the bathroom is visited and the weight of the person using it to, for example, see if they are losing weight continuously, we could conclude that the person is probably sick and should go to the doctor before it is late ”, explains to EFE the sanitary engineer Damir Brdjanovic.
The difficulties and dangers of living without a toilet are starkly presented in a scene from the filmSlumdog Millionaire (2008) by English director Danny Boyle: the moment when Jamal, the main character, throws himself as a child into the excrement pile of a precarious outdoor latrine to collect a photo. In India alone, 60% of the population is forced to defecate like this, and human feces contain viruses, bacteria and parasites. Once ingested due to dirty water, they can cause from cholera to polio, in addition to worm infestations, which delay growth and alter cognitive functions, according to United Nations data.
The toilet, exposed in the garden of the institute, is made up of a sink located next to the entrance door to the bathroom and at the back contains three containers placed in the lower part and in which the water is collected separately dirty, excrement and urine.
In addition, on the roof there is a water tank and solar panels that provide energy to the sensor system installed on the ground to detect the levels of use and hygiene, and that are also in charge of blocking the bathroom once it is full.
“The bathroom would close automatically and could no longer be used. At the same time, the operator receives a notice that this bathroom is closed and that he must come or send someone to clean it ”, added the scientist from the IHE, located in Delft (Netherlands) and supported by UNESCO.
Once used and with the person outside, a disinfection system is activated to “kill all bacteria” and thus avoid one of the great problems of the lack of sanitation services: the spread of diseases through fecal remains.
The goal is "to have a toilet that can function effectively, is clean, and allows residual debris to be safely removed to be treated later where appropriate," says Brdjanovic.
The first generation of this toilet was tested in a camp in Tacloban (Philippines), which was hosting some 900 refugees, and this pilot test helped optimize two new specimens that will now be sent to Nairobi, “to an area with a Muslim population” to , again, collect usage data and improve the next version.
In addition, this toilet has an "anti-rape emergency button" installed, he points out by way of example, which even allows the user to launch an alarm signal if something goes wrong, an issue that has made "in the Philippines people have felt safer taking refuge inside ”than in other parts of the camp.
“In Africa, for example, they are used to not using a lot of water for hygiene because it is a scarce resource, unlike Asia, where there is excess water and they have other ways of using a toilet. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Likewise, if it is an area where it does not rain, the reservoir can also be filled with water manually ”, explains Brdjanovic.
This bathroom makes use of artificial intelligence and at the same time, helps to collect information on the frequency, duration and mode of use of the service in individuals, such as men, women and children separately, something that had not been possible until now.
But that is not its only novel quality, but also the collection of the remains for later use: "Do you know that the same amount of energy can be produced from a kilo of excrement as with a kilo of coal?", Indicates Brdjanovic.
The idea is "to move them to a centralized place where they can be treated in an appropriate way" and under surveillance, thinking about "what resources can be obtained from the collected elements," especially to produce energy, adds the Mexican scientist Carlos López Vázquez.
Some 4.5 billion people do not have safe access to sanitation, of which 900 million defecate directly in the open, according to UN figures.
In addition, at least 40 girls and boys die every hour in the world due to diarrhea, caused by the lack of sanitation, hygiene and drinking water, the NGO Oxfam Intermón denounced today.
With information from: