There seems to be some consensus that the toilet is the true indicator to a truly clean home for those homes that have the luxury of having one. I have grown up seeing and using different types of toilets in Cameroon. In fact, it would make for an interesting read were one to catalogue stories and experiences about toilets in Cameroon. I remember once while a toddler learning to use pit latrines, I lost my pair shorts for they were too tight for me to squat enough for this sacred process. In the coastal regions of Cameroon, stories abound about flowing rivers serving as nature’s gift for waste disposal whereby in some areas, those upstream use it for toileting and bathing needs and those downstream religiously use it for drinking and other benign purposes. Many have wondered why I became fond of my maternal grandparents’ abode more than that of my paternal. It was largely because of the ready availability of toileting facilities. Both had pit latrines but the former was surrounded by pear and mango trees which made it fun going for this exercise; both were hidden by coffee plants but my maternal parents’ was easier to use away from scrutinizing passersby unlike my paternal grandparents’; yet my paternal grandparents lived to celebrate the 65th anniversary of their wedding – a far-fetched dream by contemporary trends and standards.
While we are at it, I remember a friend sharing his experience of “doing it” in the bush and using grass to clean up afterwards which grass turned out to be the itchy hot pepper like specie. Not a pleasant experience.
As a seminarian, one of the foremost concerns one had whenever one was going on pastoral assignment was toileting. I remember once after trekking for four hours, was so exhausted that when I asked to be shown the toilet, I was taken behind the house and pointed a place in the dark. Looked around and saw no hut and rushed back in to get my flashlight. As I returned, I was greeted by the sound of pigs. It turned out that a special boundary had been marked where you just deposit and by the time you leave there is nothing left as the pigs would have had good dinner. For some, there are just poles lifted above the pigsty where the pigs scramble below for whatever drops down. One can imagine the frustration when it is a “watery down pour.”
The situation is no different in urban areas. It is even more embarrassing in some urban cities in Cameroon such as Douala and Yaounde where town planning is a sham. The “sous-quartiers” for anyone with passing experience of these cities harbor the worst possible sanitary facilities if any. Once there is a place for one to lay his head, the rest do not really matter. There is thus an acute need of sanitary facilities and if Cameroon is indeed Africa in miniature, then the story is no different for the rest of the continent. Reports of the outbreak of cholera in 2004 and 2010 in Douala, the Grand North of Cameroon, Yaounde and some cities in Nigeria comes as no surprise. And this is not unconnected to the lack of adequate sanitary facilities. Cameroon’s minister of public health’s plea for citizens to use the available pit latrines and stop defecating in public confirms this.
Even though it looks like the problem is not so much about the lack of these facilities, one cannot help but ask what then the real issue is? Is it just a cultural problem whereby people have grown accustomed to such unsanitary patterns? Or could it also be the case that some of these facilities are just nightmares that scare even owners/intended users? Two years ago on October 10th 2006, UNICEF launched a project to build some 1.5 million toilets throughout Cameroon. Water and sanitation are big challenges in Cameroon. The answer I propose here is in Enviro Loo the waterless toilet system. Dr Latrobe’s invention is one in a series of alternative solutions to the acute sanitation needs of Africa.
Against this background, one can only imagine the cultural shock moving into a culture where dog poop on the lawn is not just a taboo but even criminal; or where scaling the bush to drop off some urine is a sin given the sacredness of forests and parks. As the world gathers in a few days’ time in New York for the millennium development goals summit, it is crucial for a pitch to be made on the sanitary pearl – Enviro Loo – made in Africa.
I cannot count the number of times I walked pass the booth at the Aid and International development forum of July 2010 that displayed an African ingenuity. It was with an unnerving hesitancy that I made the stop over. In display was a large trombone-like figure. There was a ceramic toilet pot connected to a “wide receiver”, a heating compartment and a chimney like pipe atop of which rested what I perceived to be an escape valve. The public display of such a “private instrument” was to me at best a turn off. Thank God it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise and stopover.
Necessity is indeed the mother of invention especially necessity of the sanitarian nature such as toileting. The birth certificate of this product would read something like this: Name: Enviro Loo; Christian name: Enviro loo (Pty) Options; Date of birth: 1993; Place of birth: South Africa; Father’s name: Dr Brian LaTrobe
As to how this invention functions, in its most simple form, one can describe it as a ceramic toilet pot which is connected to a receptacle with two chambers one for fluids and the other for solids. This wide receptacle has a large pipe that brings in air and through which the odor is blown out. There is a solar trapping and conserving compartment attached. Through the magical combination of conserved air and heat, liquids evaporate while solids dehydrate. 95 % of the solid waste is dehydrated and odor eliminated by the constant flow of air. The 5% remainder is what is raked out every time maintenance is due or scheduled and this depends on the volume of consumption. Check out www.enviro-loo.com for more details.
Seven reasons why you should get Enviro-Loo
1) It is an African invention: The fallacious and myopic doctrine most of us have imbibed namely that a thing is good because it is made in Europe/America has helped dwarf African pride. Africa exports raw materials whose added value is repackaged and sold at ridiculously exorbitant prices. Malls in the United States of America have been flooded with made in China goods and today there is an outcry for the consumption of made in America goods. In her address in Kenya, US Secretary of state, Hilary Clinton remarked that African countries don’t trade with themselves. If Africa traded – if sub Saharan Africa traded among themselves, the GDP growth would be significant in a relatively short period, she added. Here is an opportunity, a golden one. Africans learn to consume African products. Charity begins at home.
2) It has international standards: Three areas where this product has hit the mark are in its technological excellence, guaranteed health outcomes and environmental friendliness. This product has won international accolades “both for its innovation in healthcare and its contribution to the environment” such as the 2005 Tech museum award among others. Given that it is currently used by 39 countries further confirms its international repute.
3) It is environmentally friendly: Environmental friendliness is the new buzz phrase in contemporary parlance. If the global warming agenda is true, then one way of going green is through the use of solar-powered equipment. Examples of green initiatives abound such as solar microwaves, solar cookers etc Enviro Loo belongs to this class as it runs on air and solar energy. In fact, without contributing to the global warming, Enviro Lo can be said to be a beneficiary as it runs on heat. It is also pollution free and even odorless. There is no problem of broken sewers with concomitant nauseating stench common in big cities for example.
4) Helps free up scarce water resources for other uses: As already indicated, Enviro loo does not use water not even for its cleanliness. It is an aerobic and solar-powered contraption.
5) It is simple without being simplistic: The simplicity of the model and its operating principle makes it look facile; yet the fact that it has for example “no internal moving parts” gives it an added bonus. You do not need rocket science to figure it out. Even more charming is the fact that this African magic is so malleable that it can be installed anywhere for either personal home consumption, commercial purposes such as in parks, beaches, mountains, schools, hospitals, sports arenas and you can add your own to the list. Sanitation of our rural areas will be greatly improved were these to be installed there.
6) Enviro loo is quite convenient to use and maintain: One must not strain to be at ease especially for men used to standing and “piping.” Squatting for long periods is problematic; talk less of the stench that one carries along when one uses a pit latrine. Enviro loo eliminates both and its convenience is an extra plus.
7) Enviro loo also has immense potential for job creation: This product is designed in such a way that its installation and maintenance are easy and so very often a local group is trained to take care of these logistical issues. This is corporate social responsibility in a sense. If you doubt the significance of job creation, ask President Obama’s current experience in the face of forthcoming midterm elections. Even though this product could be maintained individually, Enviro loo sets up the business in such a way that there is a local corps to handle all problems. It has a two years manufacturer’s warranty and lifespan of fifty years and more.
To assess the progress made this far, I contacted one of the distributors of this product and this is what he had to say:
ECMP (GH) Ltd is a Ghanaian registered company and had a South African partner. ECMP (GH) Ltd. was introduced to Enviro- Option (pty) in 1996 by our South African partners, This was when the system had first been developed in South Africa and looking for markets around the world.
Since than we have installed over 3,500 units throughout Ghana, in every region, for schools, communities, Mining companies, Farms, recreational and beach resort and residential homes and prison.
We are currently the third Largent(sic) distributor, closely behind Botswana and South Africa. We have also installed about 100 units in some prison in Regions.
We have the patent for the West African Region and produce the components, wholly in Ghana for distribution throughout Ghana and other West African countries
Meanwhile, an email exchange between the award-winning brain behind this success story Dr LaTrobe afforded us the following insights: –
Q: What is the meaning of the name Enviro-Loo?
Q. What was your inspiration for the project?
Ans: To provide a hygienic and dignified sanitation system where a waterborne system is unaffordable or unavailable.
Q: What is unique about your product?
A life time dry on-site sanitation system with a ceramic toilet pan and without odors.
Q: How would you describe the success rate of the venture this far?
Good with +/- 55,000 ENVIRO LOO units installed worldwide.
Q: Averagely what is the cost of purchasing, installing and sustaining your product?
US$600.00, US$50.00 & US$8.00 per annum respectively. The installation amount excludes the top structure.
Q: What if any, is the downside of your product?
In terms of dry sanitation – nothing. Otherwise, it can only be installed at ground level and not on multi floor buildings.
Q: Has your endorsement by the African union helped in the expansion of your business?
Q: Are there some challenges you have faced or are facing in getting markets for your product?
Price and initial capital affordability.
Some Random Pictures culled from Enviro loo website