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Adopting the Ecosan Approach in Health and Environmental Management
Sewage disposal is a huge problem that confronts densely populated areas. If sewage is not treated properly before being disposed, fecal pathogens and organisms could contaminate scarce water resources and cause an outbreak of illness and even death, especially among communities that still rely on communal wells for their domestic water needs.
Putting up a waste water treatment facility is the typical solution to the problem, but the City Government of Bayawan went beyond the usual. With the help of the German Technical Cooperation agency, it established a more economical and ecologically sustainable sanitation system they dubbed “Ecosan.” Structured on the principles of recycling, Ecosan facilitates the complete recovery of nutrients from feces, urine and greywater for reuse in agriculture while at the same time reducing water pollution and conserving water resources.
The system has two components which take into account population density and water supply. One is the establishment of Decentralized Constructed Wetland Treatment (CWT) facilities in peri-urban areas where population is dense. The other is the construction of Urine Diversion and Dehydration Toilets (UDDT) in the hinterland areas where population is scattered and water supply is limited.
In the CWT, the root system of a locally abundant reed planted within the treatment beds break down the pollutants into simple compounds and the treated water is stored for appropriate re-use such as for irrigation, construction, and fire fighting. Conventional treatment facilities would have cost the LGU about P30 million, which does not yet include chemical supplies, maintenance and power requirements. The CWT only required a start-up investment of P9.7 million.
With the UDDT, water flushing is no longer required since feces and urine are separated and isolated from each other. Treatment is accomplished through dehydration, and properly designed containment chambers ensure that fecal pathogens do not contaminate water sources. Properly stored urine and sanitized feces are utilized as fertilizer and soil conditioner. Building a new conventional toilet costs between P25,000 to P30,000. An Ecosan toilet costs only about P10,000 or less, depending on the choice of materials.
Since treatment and sanitation are achieved by natural processes, the Ecosan systems are easier and less costly to operate and maintain as they do not require complicated equipment or expensive chemicals. They also require less energy and can be constructed using locally available materials.
More than merely complying with environmental regulations and spending less money, the LGU was able to raise the public’s awareness about the importance of protecting and preserving the environment. Social preparation was strictly implemented to ensure that users are properly oriented about their roles and responsibilities in the operation and maintenance of the toilets. Rules and regulations were set and agreed upon by the stakeholders. A community-based monitoring team and the Ecosan technical working group were organized to jointly conduct regular monitoring of the project. During evaluation sessions, the project team discusses relevant issues and appropriate solutions with the beneficiaries.
What is noteworthy is that the women play a key role in the management of the project. To promote hygienic behavior among the young, the LGU plans to put up UDDTs in all public schools in the city, in coordination with school officials and the Parent-Teachers-Community Associations. Ecosan projects have also been incorporated in the Long Term- Development Plan of the city.
The CWT project is a pioneering venture as it is the country’s first LGU-constructed and managed wetland wastewater treatment plant. Many visitors from other LGUs and even other countries conduct learning visits. City Officials have also been invited to present the initiatives in national fora and gatherings like the 1st Philippine Sanitation Summit, World Water Day Summit, 10th Annual Roundtable Discussion on Innovative Water Sanitation for P3R, National Conference of Small Water Service Providers and the International Conference on Sustainable Cities and Villages at Dongsheng, Erdos, China. The Provincial Government of Negros Oriental, bolstered by Bayawan City’s experience, will soon be launching Ecosan dry toilets in selected areas. Other agencies interested in Ecosan can count on Bayawan City for guidance and support should they carry out similar projects in their areas.
Bayawan’s Ecosan concept could eventually herald a new policy shift in sanitary and environmental management. It will surely contribute to the growing body of knowledge on the improvement of sanitation programs and systems.
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