Celebrating women-lead “quick start programmes”

This article was originally posted on SAICM.org

International Women’s Day offers an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women around the world, including in the field of chemicals and health.

Women have played a significant role in several prominent Quick Start Programme projects. Just one example of this is a recent project lead by Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF) in the Balkans. Since its foundation, WECF has been involved with a number of initiatives and projects, including two projects funded by the Quick Start Programme Trust Fund.

Their most recent QSP project promoted the use of Ecosan toilets in rural areas and aimed to reduce chemicals and contamination of drinking water of rural communities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Albania. It raised awareness in rural communities, municipal governments, and national institutions to the safe treatment of drinking water sources, and of the environmental risks posed by the misuse of septic systems.

The benefits of dry Ecosan toilets are clear: providing a hygienic, sustainable solution to the challenges of delivering sanitary toilet services, while turning a would-be contaminant into a useful source of compost. In the Balkans, community support for these types of systems have grown. Veljan Golabov, a participant in a workshop in 2016 in Macedonia, said that he is “prepared to build an Ecosan toilet both in the yard, and in the farm. That way, this [allows] my children to have a healthy life meanwhile the chemicals in the soil will be less, and the price of growing organic vegetables will be lower”.

The Ecosan toilet is a low-cost system that is easily constructed with locally sourced materials. It can be up to 70% cheaper to build than conventional systems, and using a decentralized sanitation system it separates urine from faeces, which is then composted to be used as a fertilizer.

Ecosan/UDDT Scheme

While this system was initially met with distrust and surprise, once participants saw the system in use, many realized their utility. Particularly in rural areas, which often rely solely on septic systems or pit latrines, the benefits are clearly apparent.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the partner organization, Eko Forum Zenican, was initially sceptical about the technology. However, after visiting an established system in Moldova, they learnt how they could implement it in their own country, and built one in the small village of Gorica, which proved a remarkable success. The relevant authorities, including the Institute for Public Health, have accepted it as one of the solutions that could become part of their plans for rural areas.

In Albania, the Ecosan system was also met with doubt, with locals asking “What is an Ecosan toilet? How does it work? Has anyone else in Albania tried it before me? Why should I spend money to build such a toilet?” The first Albanian Ecosan toilet was built at a church in the Daragjati village, which helped to raise understanding of the system, and how it can benefit individuals and communities.

“At the beginning they were difficult to persuade…they are very convinced of the importance, but they find it difficult to make the first step of building one in their homes.” said Fiorela Plani from Albania.

They experienced some suspicion, for example, “the lack of water in these bathrooms creates, especially in some women, the impression that hygiene is not good enough.” However, the installation of the Ecosan toilet in the church grounds of the Daragjati village helped to overcome this uncertainty.

Construction of the toilet in the village Jabolce, Macedonia
Construction of the toilet in the village Jabolce, Macedonia. In Macedonia the toilet was constructed in a Municipality Sopishte, near Skopje.

The use of grey water filtration systems further attempts to reduce pollution and wastage. Grey water, that is, water from hand basins, showers, kitchen sinks and appliances (excluding toilets) also has applications for gardening. After passing through a filter, the water can be used on the garden. These type of grey water filtration gardens were built in conjunction with the Ecosan toilet systems in order to reduce water wastage and support the overall aims of the project.

The Sustainable Development Goals outline the will to provide access to safe and affordable drinking water by 2030. Programmes such as the Ecosan toilets that help to prevent contamination of drinking water sources are key to achieving this goal. Unfortunately, there remains a significant disparity of access to clean water between rural and urban dwellers in the Balkans. Rural areas are more likely to lack safe drinking water, or have water contaminated by pollutants from aging pipes and leaking septic systems. With ongoing efforts by women in organizations such as WECF, who are determined to prevent the pollution of drinking water by untreated sewerage, the goals of safe drinking water for all and achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls are one step closer to becoming a reality in the region.

The WECF Team outside (Sopishte Municipality) in Macedonia where they held a training with the local authorities and different stakeholders in terms of Ecosan and sustainable development
The WECF Team outside (Sopishte Municipality) in Macedonia where they held a training with the local authorities and different stakeholders in terms of Ecosan and sustainable development.