The damage from Hurricane Sandy might seem like it all happened in New York and New Jersey, but the storm had a long path before it hit the East Coast. Flooding killed at least 54 people in Haiti and left tens of thousands more homeless. But the real issue from the storm may be that it exacerbated an already deadly problem: 7,600 Haitians have died over the past two years of a cholera epidemic. Cholera had been unknown for decades in Haiti; fingers are pointing at a Nepalese UN peacekeeping base that was found to be discharging untreated sewage. To help solve that problem, an offshoot of the Occupy movement’s Sandy relief effort is moving in to help bring relief in the form of composting toilets.
Sewage isn’t anyone’s favorite topic, and the widespread distaste for talking about shit means that toilets, clean water, and sanitation get less than their fair share of international aid dollars. “Water-borne illnesses” is really a euphemism for “shit-borne illnesses”–Diarrhea alone kills 3,000 children a day according to the WHO. This is unfortunate, since an estimated 2.6 billion people around the world have no safe or healthy place to poop.
The actress Patricia Arquette is the cofounder of GiveLove, an organization dedicated to improving Haiti’s sanitation. Their organization distributes simple, low-cost “humanure” compost toilets, built with local materials, and, crucially, trains local people in the science of maintaining them. The key is mixing human waste with food scraps and agricultural waste including sugar cane. With the right recipe of carbon and nitrogen, turned and aerated properly and kept warm, “good” bacteria destroys any potential for disease and breaks human waste down into usable fertilizer within a few months.
Lopi LaRoe, a New York-based artist and organizer of Occupy Sandy Haitian Relief–a small offshoot of the Occupy Sandy relief effort currently drawing so many supplies and volunteers in the New York area–is partnering with GiveLove and another organization, WavesforWater.org, to fund the distribution of more toilets and water filters in Haiti and to help build local capacity to use them. “Our goal is to show solidarity between the people hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy, both in New York City and Haiti, and to share resources,” says LaRoe.