Chief Ompore couldn’t stop smiling as he watched photos of Amazonian animals get projected across the Town Hall wall of Yarentaro – a remote village in Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park inside what oil companies call “Block 16.”
It was the 14th of December 2012 and the Spanish oil giant RepSol that administers the petroleum block had funded a project as part of its Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development Strategy “designed to alleviate pressure on the forest and to restore the ecosystem to its original state.”
RepSol’s project to offset the hundreds of millions of dollars of crude oil being pumped out of Block 16 was to build a “zoo-creidero” or animal hatchery. Since big oil moved in bushmeant had become increasingly scarce in the Waorani tribe’s formerly bountiful hunting grounds but once the zoo-creidero was completed those same wild animals getting projected against the wall could be bred for food in captivity.
On the 5th of March 2013, less than three months after these photos were taken, Ompore Omeway was murdered. His body and that of his wife Buganey were found impaled with spears inside RepSol’s Block 16 and the prime suspects were an uncontacted Amazonian tribe inside the Yasuní National Park called the Taromenane.Before the month of March ended an estimated 30 men, women and children of the Taromenane tribe were massacred in a battle that pitched wooden spears against modern weaponry.
Two Taromenane girls, aged 3 and 6, were kidnapped by those that killed their tribe while members of the Ecuadorian government spent seven months downplaying the massacre. Some even casted doubt on whether the Taromenane still exist.
Amazon Oil Highways & Illegal Meat Markets
RepSol is without a doubt the most responsible oil company in the history of Ecuador’s dirty oil industry.
The Spanish company has invested in education and schools in Yarentaro unlike their predecessors (Dallas based oil company Maxus) who were responsible for 29,355 hectares deforestation of primary rainforest and forbid Waorani from forming coalitions with indigenous groups outside of Block 16.
The last stop in western civilization before Block 16 is the illegal meat market of Pompeya where spider monkeys and tapirs, macaws and peccaries are sold wholesale for those with a taste for endangered flesh or trafficked onto the international black market.
Yarentaro is half an hour by boat or one and a half by car from Pompeya on the via Maxus – a formerly unpoliced “oil highway” built by Maxus – which gave commercial loggers and hunters access to the impenetrable depths of the Yasuni National Park where they stripped it like a plague of locusts.
Today getting to Yarentaro in Block 16 is illegal without a laminated photo ID issued by RepSol. The 40km speed limit to prevent noise pollution is strictly enforced with controls where guards pen down the time it took your vehicle to reach: the first speeding fine is $800, the second time its $3,000, the third you are banned from Block 16.
Younger generations of Waorani can enter and exit Block 16 freely without RepSol ID cards but carry Ecuadorian cedular’s just in case.
For Waorani like Ompore, who were born “Before Contact” and have never worn western clothes with their accompanying deep pockets, carrying identification is a little trickier.
But the guards, engineers, scientists, and contract workers in RepSol’s Block 16 all knew of Chief Ompore.
Ompore wasn’t just the Cacique of Yarentaro, he was the only person alive to have made peaceful contact with the mythical Taromenane and lived to tell the tale, as documented in this remarkable video:
A Hidden Tragedy: Ompore’s Last Moments Alive
As the Ecuadorian police seemingly stonewalled the investigation into the Taromenane massacre an unlikely team comprising of a Spanish anthropologist monk Miguel Ángel Cabodevilla and the veteran Ecuadorian journalist Milagros Aguirre began asking questions.Why did the Taromenane attack almost a year to the day after the Chief claimed in the video above he had made peaceful contact with this uncontacted tribe?
They documented their findings in a book called A Hidden Tragedy which was prohibited from circulation in Ecuador “over any medium” at 5:43pm on September 24th, a full seventeen minutes before its presentation to the public.
The coverup backfired as the book’s digital PDF appeared on blogs, torrents, twitter, dropbox and facebook as Ecuadorians circumvented censorship and turned it viral – the ensuing scandal forced the book ban to be overturned.
In the book Cabodevilla and Aguirre piece together Ompore’s last day alive for clues: On the 5th of March he left his jungle hut with his wife Buganey before dawn wearing nothing but gumboots and a machete, carrying gifts of bushmeat for his family in Yarentaro.
Today the way younger generations of Waorani blasted their radios in Yarentaro annoyed the late Chief enough to build his home with Buganey away from the high-tech comforts of Contact three hours walk into the jungle. As he arrived on the village outskirts before 8am it was those same radios booming over the top of the drills, saws and hammers constructing the zoo-creidero that prevented the master hunter from hearing the ambush.[quote]The aftermath was documented with the very technology that generations of Waorani born After Contact have embraced: cellphones.[/quote]“We have verified various videos and many photos of those first moments” writes Cabodevilla who transcribes the screams of Buganey:“Cut the spear! Cut the spear with a knife so I can live! Grab the spear, Hold it! I’m still alive but if you pull out the spear I will die…Give me water, put water on my head…hold the spear…”
She died an hour later.
The voice of one of her children screams: “I am going to kill them all! I am going to kill all of the Taromenani!”
A woman replies: “don’t talk like that!”
The body of Ompore was found near the river where he ran to escape the ambush. He’d been fatally wounded and fell into the leaflitter before propping himself up in a half-sitting position and died, impaled with nine spears more than three meters long and covered with colorful feathers.
The next day the Bishop of Coca, Jesús Sábado, arrived in Yarentaro with two members of the FAL Foundation. One of the members filmed the Waorani community using a computer connected to the projector to show the Bishop and everyone else gathered a grainy cellphone video of Buganey, the Waorani elder born Before Contact, her dying breaths cast across the Town Hall wall for all to see.[quote]In the video a woman’s voice shouts:“Ompure had already warned them, he already knew but you all did nothing. Two days ago the Taromenane left a sign; they bent a banana plant and put there a spear.”[/quote]
The question is: Why did the Taromenane attack Ompore Omewey? Read excerpts from A Hidden Tragedy translated into English to find out yourself. [mc4wp_form]
The 8th of September was not a normal Sunday.
For the three weeks previous farmers from the province of Boyaca and its capital Tunja had blocked the roads to strangle the food supply en route to Colombia’s biggest city Bogotá.
Boyaca is not only Bogotá’s backyard, its also the breadbasket for this city of 7 million mouths and has fed it since the time of the Spanish.
After decades of having their human rights ignored the National Agrarian Strike with its epicenter in Boyaca was a last resort to get urbanite Colombians to pay attention: the countryside is in crisis so consumers can save a few pesos at the supermarket.
The strike had abated the day before and Tunjas Cathedral was packed with people who came to see three of the movements leaders who fought against forces far greater than themselves: the Colombian government castrated by consecutive Free Trade Agreements with foreign powers, the United States that provides the country with billions of dollars in military aid (and expects its back scratched in return) as well as omnipotent multinationals like Monsanto.
Their names were Florentino Borda, Walter Benavides, and César Pachón and they spoke to the gathered mass in front of a banner stating, “Thankyou for believing in the #RevolutionOfTheRuanas”
The name of the Indian woman was Kasturba Mohandas Gandhi and the priest recounted a question once asked to her about the man she married who brought the British Empire to its knees.
Her reply: “I did not marry a man,
I married a cause.”
This is the story of Boyaca’s cause.
The Seeds of Discontent
Before dawn 12 hours earlier a man they call Pacho from the nearby town of Paipa rigs his car with a speaker and microphone transforming it into a mobile soapbox.
Mist hangs heavily over the back roads that bend up the mountainside and visibility is limited but Pacho dodges the severed trees that had, up until a few days before, blocked all entries and exits to the town.
With steering wheel in one hand and a microphone in the other Pacho shouts out the first names of those who cut the trees and blocked the roads with aggressive threats of force – they are potato farmers and they are invited to a Town Hall Meeting that morning where farmers get to discuss the strikes resolution with Florentino Borda, Walter Benavides, and César Pachón.
Flour & Barley: Because Cocaine is not an Option
Pacho has gained a measure of success in his life and now runs a warehouse full of farming goods from fertilizer to cattle feed and tools both big and small to work the land. But sales have bottomlined, purchases are being made on credit, and customers he counts as friends are struggling to survive.
“This conflict comes from much further back than Santos or Uribe and the TLC” says Pacho referring to Colombia’s Free Trade Agreement with the United States in his history lesson of Boyaca.
In the 1970’s the crop of choice for the province was barley until big beer breweries with factories in the province began using imports from the US. The farmers switched to wheat which was used in bakeries across Boyaca but subsidized wheat and flour from the US undercut competition in the 80’s.
Over the following decades everything from contraband Ecuadorian potatoes to European imports of powdered milk made it harder for Boyacenses to do business.
In other parts of the country these Fair Trade Agreements that flooded the market with cheap foreign imports forced farmers into growing the one Colombian crop with insatiable international demand:
the Coca leaf.
Boyaca’s too cold for Coca.
“We don’t have politicians that protect the community, they are selling the country and the farmers are fed up.” Pacho says as the car climbs up above the mist for a view of Boyaca’s spectular valleys.
“The same state that forgot about the potato farmers is facilitating the multinationals so that they can sell more at subsidized prices.”
Potato Farmers Do Not Want Monsanto Seeds
Three paperos or potato farmers come to greet us, “this land makes good potatoes but what kills us are the importations, they don’t let us compete and now we are broke” says community leader Alexander Camargo.
“You dont sell potatoes,” he says, “you give them away.”
Its not a lack of creativity or initiative that bankrupted the potato farmers of Paipa.
For years they have gone to the mayor with plans to help return their industry to profit but the municipal government ignored them. One such plan was a seed bank that Alexander Camargo and Luis Cipaguata dreamt of creating called Crops from a Cold Land.
After Colombia signed the TLC with the United States storing seeds became a criminal offence. Farmers that followed the tradition of their great grandfathers became criminals under new laws enforced with fines or imprisonment. Saving seeds threatened the bottomline of Monsanto.[quote]”We need to buy foreign seeds but they are too expensive, we want to certify our own seeds” says Camargo, “if we cannot save our own seeds then they have us screwed.”[/quote]
Catastrophic Acts of God vs Government Pacts: MercoSur, TLC
The nearby town of Santa Teresa has felt the destructive nature of these Free Trade Agreements with the US and South American countries under the MercoSur umbrella as hard as 3 floods that devastated the area in 2.5 years.
“When the government took the barley off us we had to look for a different crop, some went for potatos, others for milk or onions,” says Wilson Pulido a representative for the region.
“After the floods destroyed everything everyone’s in debt and then the government floods us with Peruvian onions, MercoSur, the TLC.” he says.
“Now it costs 55,000 pesos to get a load of onions but we have to sell that load at 20,000 pesos, we are losing 70 percent on every load”
Back in Paipa Pacho drives down the valley to ready himself for the Town Hall Meeting and tells me, “What other choice do the people here have? They are honest, they don’t know how to steal, they aren’t guerrillas, they only want to work with dignity to get a better quality of life for their families”
You can only step over peoples human rights for so long until they have nothing left to lose and the stoic Boyacenses had nothing left to lose. They took the roads.
How The Movement Spread
1. The Watercooler of Dissent: Fruit & Vegetable Markets
Colombia’s National Agrarian Strike started as grassroots as it gets: in fruit and veg markets across Boyaca where farmers and sellers had been swapping stories of dwindling profits and soaring losses for years.
It was here Pacho says: “farmers communicated and organized every single wednesday”
2. Protest Leaders Organize While President Santos LaughsOn May 7th 2013 representatives for farmers convened in Bogotá to alert the the government about the crisis in its agricultural sector. Speeches on Youtube by César Pachon and Florentino Borda show how their microphones are cut which was considered incredibly condescending by farmers.
The government gave them empty promises but the congregation served an important purpose to Pachón and Borda because they were able to network with other sidelined farmers from provinces across the country to coordinate the next strike.
In August 2013 when the National Agrarian Strike began comments by President Santos deliberately belittling the size of the protests infuriated Boyacenses long fed up with their rights being ignored.
“There were only 20 or 30 people blocking the roads” says Pacho, “but when Santos said ‘this so called national strike doesn’t exist‘ overnight we trippled in size.”
The Boyacenses wanted to send a message: YES WE EXIST.
3. Citizen Journalists Shoot Police Human Rights AbusesTo beat Boyaca’s farmers into submission the Colombian government sent a largely undisciplined, downright violent, and universally feared force of ESMAD Riot Police to stop the protests.
What happened next would shock the western world but comes as no surprise to your average Colombian: these trigger-happy storm troopers dressed like Darth Vader vigilantes began looting and pillaging the countryside.
In the village of Barranco 10 minutes outside of Tunja a potato farmer named Ernesto Torres was selling black coffee to protestors blocking the via Bogotá a mere 100 meters from his home. When the ESMAD arrived protestors panicked and ran up past Torres’ house and into the hills but the police gave up chase and looted the potato farmers’ home instead.
That night the ESMAD broke Torres’ two motorbikes, tipped over a gallon bucket of honey, stole 3,000,000 pesos he had set aside to buy pesticide, smashed the windows and left spent teargass grenades on his childrens bunkbeds.[quote]”We left the door unlocked because its safe in the countryside, we never thought something like this could happen in Boyaca,” says Ernesto Torres, “Thank god the children were with my father.”[/quote]
“I believe the ESMAD made us stronger” César Pachón told me explaining how the deluge of videos by Citizen Journalists documenting human rights abuses by the ESMAD caused public outrage and garnered the sympathy of Colombian’s from the city.
4. The Town Hall of the Future: Red BoyacaIn Paipa’s Town Hall the mood is a mix of elation and tense relief amongst the farmers gathered. Here Florentino Borda, Walter Benavides, and César Pachón give speeches about what Boyaca gained now the strike against the government had been resolved while citizen journalist Aida Castro films and tweets their points.
The sleepy town of Paipa, like many others in the province, have risen up in protest only once before in history: during the Battle of Boyacá in August 1819 that gained Colombia its independence from the Spanish.
This August 193 years later the Colombian elite are again facilitating foreign states as well as multinationals to plunder the countryside at the expense of the human rights of farmers and their families.
What has changed however is a phenomena mushrooming across South American cyberspace called the Town Hall of the Future – online meeting places like this brick and mortar Town Hall in Paipa were concerned citizens come to discuss important topics online.
Online Town Halls like Red Boyaca are the future in bringing people together to fight for their communities by holding human rights abuses accountable thanks to the courageous grassroots reporting by citizen journalists.
There is an old saying in this cold Colombian province: “Boyacenses don’t pray to God for good crops, they pray the neighbors crops will fail.” Now however for the second time in history the stoic Boyacenses are united but this time they are hyper-connected to each other and the rest of Colombia thanks to Citizen Journalism and the Town Halls of the Future.
In the dense cloud forests that cover the western ridge of the Ecuadorian Andes an active guerrilla movement called the Pachamama Army roams.
Unlike other guerrilla armies further north inside this biodiversity hotspot biologists call the Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena, this movement believes in non-violent struggle over violent subversion.
Their revolution is one of consciousness via connection with nature and they are armed to the teeth with seeds, saplings, and shovels instead of guns and shells.
“The Pachamama Army are the protectors of nature,” says the movement´s leader Geovani Yanchaliquin Basantez, an indigenous Andino Yachac (Andean Shaman) pictured below, “We hold life in its natural state with utmost respect and guard over the plant and animal species in danger of extinction.”
Its a daunting task: Ecuador´s coastal cloud forests and humid montane forests are considered one of the most biodiverse hotspots on the planet, containing approximately 15-17-% of the world’s plant species and nearly 20% of its bird diversity.
Equally biodiverse are the Panamanian and Colombian sectors of the Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena where armed conflict between paramilitary groups and the Colombian military against FARC and ELN guerrilla forces have prevented deforestation and protected the natural biodiversity.
The blowback with peace in Ecuador however has been devastating.
The violent visual representation below shows how Ecuador´s coastal forests have lost land at a rate faster than Palestine between 1938 and 1988 due to slash-and-burn farming, illegal logging, monocultures, and population growth.
Forward Operating Base “el Kade”
el Kade is the Pachamama Army´s most remote outpost and it´s under siege. A plague of African palm oil, cacao monocultures and banana plantations swallow the surrounding countryside like a cancerous green shaded desertification.
Rivers flowing from the snow-capped volcanoes east that were once the supply lines of life for the mountainside are now clogged with cow shit and silt. The green corridors that connected this small patch of tropical cloud forest and provided safe passage for nomadic animals have been cemented over by the unceasing march of civilization.[quote]The coastal forest of Ecuador are the country´s lungs and source of water. The coast is sitting on the cliff of extinction and if we do not reforest now, we will be in danger of losing everything that inhabits this zone. – Geovani Yanchaliquin [/quote]
el Kade is one of three terrains entrusted to the Pachamama Army for protection. On the terrain there are 38 hectares of primary forest and 5 hectares of secondary, the two wooden cabins are off the grid and built with recycled wood, and all food consumed is grown organically on site.
But the remoteness of el Kade´s virgin forest is both a blessing and a curse: in times past its isolation saved it while illegal loggings lust for cheap timber chopped down all the low hanging fruit.
Now that Ecuador´s environmental laws have been tightened and are more strictly policed that same isolation entices the timber barons here because the law is harder to enforce.[pullquote align=”right”]Check out the powerful Global Forest Disturbance Alert System that uses NASA satellite technology to track down deforestation.
“I’m hoping the tool can help journalists and activists pinpoint areas where deforestation is occurring,” says Rhett Butler, founder and editor-in-chief of Mongabay.[/pullquote]”To stop deforestation it is necessary to identify and denounce the threat when illegal logging is discovered.” says Geovanni who uses before and after photos taken by members of his small army on routine reconnaissance missions to measure deforestation. With enough proof they alert Ecuador´s Ministry of Environment to intervene as a regulator.
After preventing deforestation and planting saplings over baron pastures the Pachamama Army´s other priorities include educating local farmers on the benefits of organic farming over pesticide coated monocultures and creating a seed bank, “a seed bank is urgent because most ancestral plants are disappearing fast due to the deforestation and invasion of hybrid plants and grasses.”
“Ecotourism as a word means to arrive at a harmonious state between man and nature, and that for us is a way of life outside of marketing and capitalism.” says Geovanni who has also developed Reforestation Treks in conjunction with the Ecuador Tree People, “All of the economic income from ecotourism will be reinvested in works that favour nature.”
It´s recommended that volunteers that want to work on these conservation projects to arrange to arrive at el Kade by mountain bike or horseback because by car it´s downright dangerous to get there.
Our 4WD Landrover almost slipped off the cliff lining the treacherous mudracked road and rope was tied around the tyres in a desperate attempt to give the car more traction. But it was worth the risk for views like this:
The Modern Day Shaman
For Geovanni the fight to save Ecuador´s coastal forests is also a fight to preserve his rich Kichwa heritage from being homogenised into the masses like a giant human monoculture.
The fast disappearing role of the Yachac or Shaman in the communal lives of the Kichwa´s and Andino´s that inhabit the Ecuadorian Sierra is especially troubling.
“The Shaman in the modern world plays a very important part in helping people return to their roots, to eat healthy and take natural medicine that doesn´t affect other parts of the body like chemical medicines.”
Geovanni learnt the secrets of Shamanic medicine from his father Victor Yanchaliquin, an indigenous medicine doctor and author of several books pertaining to medicinal plants.
This however is becoming increasingly rare in modern Ecuador where Spanish speaking Kichwa children cannot communicate in the Kichwa language to their grandparents.
In the 21st century the sacred ancestral knowledge that was once passed from generation to generation on the use and cultivation of medicinal plants is being lost as fast as the plants themselves.
“The wisdom of our ancestors tells us that we are already in difficult times,” says Geovanni, “but to conserve nature and our ancestral roots is our mission.”
When the mist grips el Kade it´s easy to get disoriented – when you´ve snorted water that´s been boiled with tobacco leaves and consumed half a litre of mescaline San Pedro cactus that disorientation expands time, place, and self.
On a full moon the clouds glow blue while the surrounding nature throbs with a kaleidoscope of calls from birds, mammals, amphibians, lizards, and insects. Hearing this call of life in its most pristine state is when you realise the importance of this beautiful living breathing organism all around us that sustains us and that are we are willing to sacrifice to make a quick buck.[quote]”Pachamama in the Andean world is our mother, the spirit of nature, we are her children, and we have to fight to save her.” – Geovani Yanchaliquin[/quote][mc4wp_form]
In Part 2 of this interview about human waste disposal and water sanitation Chris tells us the solution to all of the problems mentioned in Part 1: The Problem.
How did the new design for a sustainable human waste disposal system come into being?
In the 1950s, before the regrettable Vietnam War, a team of Vietnamese doctors analyzed why so many people were sick and how to control this. They found a great number of people were collecting “night soil” in buckets that were emptied in the morning directly in agricultural fields, where people worked largely barefoot.[quote]The doctors realized that 90% of the fertilizer is in the urine that transmits no disease when dispersed in the soil, while essentially all the health risk is packaged with only 10% of the fertilizer in the feces. The answer was to keep the urine separate and set it free on the soil immediately, while jailing up the shit, until it is not shit any more.[/quote]
In their case, they applied a detention time of three months, plus they added wood ash. This team that invented Urine-diverting Dry Toilets (UDDTs) was apparently anonymous, although it would be good for credit to go where credit is due, and to know more about the process.
UDDTs were later picked up by the Stockholm Environment Institute in Sweden, as a solution for the abundant cabins out in the Swedish woods, where running water is not feasible in the winter due to freezing, but they would never accept that their many beautiful lakes get contaminated.
They also actively promote these as a means to improve the health and sanitation of billions of people in the world.
I also suspect that certain ancient cultures had UDDTs, in particular the densely populated Amazonian peoples that made Terra Preta do Indio (Indian’s Black Soil, in Portuguese), until they were apparently decimated by Old World diseases soon after the arrival of Europeans.
No one knows yet exactly how they made these deep, dark, rich, long-lasting, productive soils, in the midst of extremely poor, highly weathered, clayey Amazonian lands, but I highly doubt that they were wasting the nutrients in their feces while they were doing so.[spoiler title=”Documentary: The Secret of El Dorado”][/spoiler]
Can you explain how the design for this human waste disposal system works?
It is very simple and seeks to follow the natural order of things. The urine and feces that the body excretes separately are kept separate, to be dealt with separately, since they are totally different things.
The urine is caught in a funnel toward the front, since both men and women pee forward, and it goes back to the soil and the plants, where it transmits no diseases. (A bit of the urine from women may drip farther back, but this small amount is not a problem.)
Urine is normally sterile and there are only a handful of weird diseases that it ever transmits, plus for that to happen it has to go into rivers or contact the next person directly. The various microbes of urinary tract infections and vaginal infections either get destroyed rapidly in the soil or are natural inhabitants of the soil anyway. Many of these come from the gut, but here they are in much smaller numbers and are highly diluted, as compared to in the feces.
In addition, sexually transmitted diseases cannot live outside of the body any significant amount of time.
Feces drop farther back, directly into alternately used chambers or exchangeable receptacles and are covered immediately with dry cover material, such as soil, wood ash, sawdust, rice hulls, or a mix of these. They are then stored, protected from the rain, for at least six months in tropical countries or a year in temperate countries, so that all the disease organisms die and it all just becomes soil.
In fact, all the worst diseases, like cholera, diarrhea and typhoid, are wiped out in a much shorter time and the guideline of six months or a year is so that intestinal worm eggs, which are the most resistant pathogens but are much less life-threatening, are also eliminated. Most victims of these worms do not even know that they have them.[quote]Shit is a temporary condition. After its jail sentence, it’s no longer shit: we open the chambers or receptacles and find dark, humus-rich soil, with no smell or health risk.
This stands to reason, since our pathogens are adapted to living in water without oxygen inside our guts, not in a pile of dry material, especially if there is soil in the pile, with all of its bacteria, fungus, protozoans and invertebrates.
These soil organisms are entirely at home in such a pile, where they eat and rip up anything that is over-abundant or out of place.
After this jail sentence, we can also apply secondary treatments involving heat, sun, earthworms or composting together with food scraps (especially thermophilic composting), for extra peace of mind or to speed things up.
We can build UDDTs for sitting or for squatting. In addition to all the health benefits mentioned above for squatting, this also allows for better separation of the urine and easier, less expensive construction.
Modern Western People tend to suffer from a psychological disease called fecophobia, which is an irrational fear of feces. Shit is a normal part of life and there is no disease in it that the user did not have from before, so, if the person is healthy, there is no health risk in his or her shit, only an unpleasant smell to be controlled and nutrients to be taken advantage of. If the user is sick, their pathogens get destroyed in the UDDT, as long as it is being managed properly.
There can be a health risk if, in a multi-family system, some of the users are sick and they are not using their UDDTs properly, such that some of their feces get mixed into the urine, but this can be controlled by storing the urine for a number of months (depending on the climate) or distributing it below the surface of the soil, where no one will have contact with it. The greatest health risk occurs when we do not think rationally about this and do the irrational act of throwing it in the river, where others can have contact immediately.
UDDTs are literally a matter of loving and trusting Mother Earth, in which we respectfully give back that which we no longer need, to let her deal with it. If we turn back the clock on shit, we find delicious food on the table. If we turn back the clock again (twice in the case of meat), we find beautiful plants growing in the sunlight. One more click and we see rich soil, so what is to keep it from becoming soil again, if we turn the dial forward again?
(Some commercial models do not use cover material, but rather have electric fans to make sure the air is always going away from the user. One of these is the Ecodomeo, which has a pedal-operated conveyor belt that carries the shit away)
The design has changed very little since the 1950’s. Have you made any modifications to make it better suit the Ecuadorian Andes and Amazon?
My line of work has been aimed at making UDDTs as easy and inexpensive to build as possible, while keeping user acceptance high.[quote]In other words, my goal is for the building of a good dry toilet to be more a matter of a paradigm shift than a big capital investment. For this reason, I have found ways to build with readily available materials, especially since factory-made units are mostly not available in Ecuador.[/quote]
One of the biggest changes I made from the start was to distribute the urine immediately via perforated hoses in the soil, instead of storing the urine in jugs, to later dilute and apply it as fertilizer among crop plants.
Organic farmers looking for every bit of natural fertilizer for their plants might be willing to do the latter, but the average user will not want to deal with smelly, fermenting urine every few days. In most of my designs, these hoses are buried 10 cm below the surface of the soil, among productive plants, like fruit trees, that can put the nutrients to good use.[quote]In the interest of making UDDTs accessible to everyone, I published a paper in the Austrian online magazine, Sustainable Sanitation Practice, on Simple UDDTs that may be built with recycled and other readily available materials, such as disposable plastic bottles and wood: Some of the models shown here cost close to nothing.[/quote]
Another surprising innovation is the storage of feces in the ubiquitous, woven, polypropylene plastic sacks used to sell rice, flour and many other products. These make excellent receptacles for this use, since humidity can evaporate out and oxygen can filter in, but flies, smells and pathogens cannot get in or out.
At first glance, people would imagine liquids oozing out, but they never do, thanks to the dry and absorbent cover material. Also, these sacks last for years and years, if they are not exposed to the sun’s UV rays. One of the biggest advantages of using interchangeable containers, like sacks, is that, at the first sign of any problems with smell or flies, you can simply change the container and the problem is resolved immediately. Another is that the feces get covered better in a small container, as compared to a big chamber.
One of the most practical ways to use these sacks is to place them as liners of plastic bins, so the sacks are held open nicely and it is easy to change them. It is also good to make holes in the bottom of the bin, and have it propped up off the ground, to allow humidity to evaporate out and for oxygen to get in, since all the worst smells associated with latrines and sewer lines are generated by bacteria that live in the absence of oxygen.
Even more surprising for many, I have found that the finished compost from this system is the best material to cover new shit. Many of the right soil microbes are still there, likely in an inactive state (like fungal spores and bacterial endospores), ready to jump back into action when there is more shit (with its moisture) to have a party in.
In this way, natural selection and the rapid evolution of microbes are working in our favor, helping them get more efficient at breaking down exactly our shit, in exactly the conditions we keep them in. In contrast, the system of water-based toilets and trying to kill the germs in a short time with chemicals is a recipe for evolution to produce microbes that are more and more resistant to the chemicals used and that are potentially more and more virulent in disease
This recycling of cover material makes the operation of UDDTs much more practical and inexpensive, especially in cities and isolated locations, since new cover material does not need to be acquired and transported constantly, nor does much of the finished compost need to trucked away. That which does have to go would not have to go very far, if neighbors, nearby neighborhoods or nearby cities sign up for UDDTs or if urban agriculture is being done.
Another good reason to use the finished compost as cover material is that it filters odors much more efficiently than most other materials, removing and breaking down up to 99% of volatile organic compounds.
It has also been shown to eliminate 75% of the reduced sulfur compound emissions that most contribute to the characteristic aroma of shit in a laboratory study of conditions similar to those of commercial composting operations (Büyüksönmez et al. 2012, ), and up to 97% of the stench from landfills (Hurst et al. 2005)
There have been a couple of isolated cases of dogs or rats being attracted by the odor and messing with the sack that is receiving the feces, but only when sawdust was being used a cover material, not when finished compost was being used (and this is another reason for the plastic bin mentioned above).
Furthermore, there is research showing that children who grow up in overly clean and disinfected homes, without contact with soil, have a much higher incidence of asthma and allergies, since their immune systems do not have anything to train on[spoiler title=”Videos about the Hygiene Hypothesis of Disease”]
So, having soil-like decomposed feces in the bathroom as cover material may well be a health benefit, instead of a health risk like one might suspect, as long as we are certain that the actual pathogens have died during its storage or treatment.
Humans evolved in complete ecosystems, including all the normal microbes, not in sterilized boxes, so it would make sense that bringing more parts of the ecosystem into the city would make it healthier for people.
This is all the more reason to build green, living roofs and vertical gardens on urban apartment buildings (and I have figured out how to do this with disposable Coke bottles).
At the moment, you are working with Achuar communities to implement this system. Has it been difficult to explain the environmental and health benefits of this system? What are some of the problems and breakthroughs you have had?
Changing anyone’s toilet habits is an imminently cultural endeavor and it is usually an uphill battle. People need to understand the concept, but, almost more importantly, they need to see and smell that UDDTs work.
I have built UDDTs with a variety of ethnic groups here in Ecuador, including mestizos, Kichwa, Shuar, Achuar, Waorani, and a little bit among the Secoyas. Of these, the Achuar have, so far, shown the greatest degree of acceptance. They are culturally very hygienic and traditionally live in houses scattered widely out in the forest, so they always had lots of forest to hygienically deposit their feces into. They covered them with soil and leaves, where the ecosystem absorbs them, without anyone else having contact with them.[pullquote]The Achuar have only had permanent contact with white people starting in about 1970, when schools and landing strips began to be built and they started settling fairly densely around these.
It is also worth remembering that all the worst diseases were brought by the Europeans and it is estimated that 90% of the indigenous people in America died of those diseases when Europeans first came to America.[/pullquote]
I think that potentially the Achuar have been quite concerned about fecal contamination for the last several decades, since they started living together in villages. Each family could be fairly certain of its own health and not so certain of that of the others, but all the children come together daily at the school and do their business behind the same trees. Also, it is a matter of privacy, since some of the villages are pretty large, with the houses fairly close to one another.
When I explain UDDTs to them, I emphasize the fact that, with open defecation in the woods, all these microbial enemies are set free, ready to attack us at any moment, whereas, with a dry toilet, these enemies are jailed up until they all die. They usually get the idea very quickly, but it is still a process to get them to build and use them, since old habits die slowly in any group of people.
In the last year and a half, we have built 31 UDDTs in 15 Achuar villages with the ACRA Foundation (of Italy) and the Chankuap Foundation (of Macas, Ecuador), with support from the European Union and the Municipality of Taisha
Over several years, the Pachamama Foundation and I have built 21 UDDTs in the Achuar villages of Pumpuentsa and Kurintsa, with a high degree of acceptance
More are being built all the time and volunteers are welcome to help with this. As I write this, the Achuar village of Juyukamentsa is organizing to build UDDTs for each of 16 families and I would like to find a volunteer to help them, especially to contribute to good replication of the design, wood preservation, and education about their proper use and maintenance.[spoiler title=”Videos of Achuar learning about UDDTs” ]
So if the Amazonian Achuar tribe can be convinced, could your average Australian, European, or North American can be convinced as well? Can you envision a time when the whole of humanity uses this system or are our heads too far stuck up our collective asses to change our behavior for the better?
At first glance, this may seem like a system that is only applicable for hippies, organic farmers, and Indians out in the woods, but, in reality, it is a prime alternative for everyone who wants to be civilized with their neighbors, future generations, and Nature. It is also fully feasible in cities, especially if the relatively small amount of shit is stored on-site during its jail sentence and is then recycled as cover material, while the urine and excess soil is used locally in urban agriculture. (Remember the vertical gardens I mentioned?)
We can also greatly shorten the jail sentence by storing the shit in solar ovens, potentially down to less than a day of good sun, since all we need to kill fecal pathogens is 7 minutes at 70°C, 30 minutes at 65°C, 2 hours at 60°C, 15 hours at 55°C, or 3 days at 50°C. (Feacham et al. 1983 and Strauch 1991, 1998, cited by Richard Higgins)
This is also more practical than cooking lunch in a solar oven, since untimely clouds do not make us put up with hunger.
The trick is to make these toilets as easy-to-use and presentable as possible. We currently ask users to add a cup of cover material after each use, but they do not always remember to do so and they often do not aim very well, spilling it into the urine funnel and around the toilet. For this reason, mechanisms are being worked out to add the cover material mechanically, such as in one project (that I was marginally involved in) that works via a pedal:
I even have a design in mind in which the user will not have to remember to step on a pedal, nor would it involve electronic sensors.
Another factor is that many users will not want to deal with the shit and the piss. This can be resolved by setting up service-provider companies that come to homes and offices to change the containers, hygienically process the contents, and (optimally) put the resulting fertilizers back to work in their own agriculture.
With these companies applying the final products in agriculture themselves, this would increase the reliability that everything gets its proper treatment, while converting it back to delicious fruits and vegetables, which will be infinitely easier to market than the pee and the poop.
This nutrient recycling is logical and necessary if we want to have sustainable agriculture and food security. An adult eats a lot of food, but is not growing, so all the nutrients eventually come back out and, if we give them back to our crop plants, they have exactly what they need to make our food again (together with solar energy).
In this way, we can forget about chemical fertilizers, if we also have a stable population size. Of course, we have to eventually forget about chemical fertilizers, because they come from non-renewable sources.
Commercial ammonia and urea, for nitrogenous fertilizer, are produced with natural gas from oil wells (as a hydrogen source to combine with nitrogen from the air), and natural gas is already starting to run out, with the peak of production estimated to occur in 2020
It is even estimated that half of the protein found in present-day human beings was made with nitrogen originally fixed by this artificial process, thus being one more case of fossil fuels subsidizing economic and population growth.[pullquote align=”right”]Phosphorus is also a finite, non-renewable, unreplaceable resource and phosphoric rock extraction is estimated to peak around 2035, with reserves remaining mainly in Morocco after that.
UDDTs are an important tool for combating Global Climate Disruption more CO2 absorbed by fertilizing plants and trees,more carbon sequestered into the soil by integrating organic matter,less methane emitted by avoiding anaerobic fermentation of feces in water,less need for chemical fertilizers (another big source of GHGs),less use of petroleum for pumping and treating water,less need for cement for building big sewers (since cement production is a big source of CO2.
Improved water-holding capacity of soils, in the face of droughts, easy construction above the high water line (or on a floating structure), in the face of floods,less demand for precious clean water.
Many rule out the mainstreaming of these dry toilets, as they cannot imagine the masses changing their toilet habits. This sort of toilet is not for everyone, but it is for everyone who wants to build a sustainable future for their children and those who do not learn to recycle nutrients will eventually go the way of the dinosaurs.
The Chinese have been recycling nutrients into the soil for thousands of years and this is one of the reasons they have had a continuous, advanced culture for such a long time. Recycling animal and human dung is the key to sustainable farming
Of course, they have not always done so in such an organized way, but there are now more than a million modern UDDTs functioning in China[quote]I am convinced that more people can learn to do what cats do by instinct: cover their shit with soil. Let’s keep water clean by keeping shit dirty.[/quote]
Thank you so much for sharing your time and knowledge! To follow Chris Canaday and his team’s work, check out these websites:
For Chekhovs Kalashnikovs very first interview on Change Makers we will be talking with environmental activist Chris Canaday from California about the broken and dangerous state of human and water sanitation systems and the solution to this problem that is damaging our environment and health.
I think that, before we talk about this revolutionary sanitation system, it is important to touch on why the current system is broken. Can you elaborate on how the contemporary western toilet came into being and the devastating effect that it has had on the environment and our health?
People in Europe used to live in total filth in their cities, throwing their excrement out the window. Porcelain flush toilets had been worked on for some time, but only in 1861, after her husband had died of fecally transmitted typhoid, Queen Victoria ordered flush toilets to be refined and installed in much of Britain.
It is also reported that she was so obese that she had trouble squatting and someone decided that it was not dignified for the queen to squat. They gave her a new porcelain throne and then, via mass psychology, all the Western World has wanted the same thing as the queen of England, even if it is not good for them or their environment.
The modern flush toilet has contributed greatly to the cleanliness of cities, but has not really solved the problem, just moved it farther away. Water always gets recycled and there are always more people living downstream. Developed countries spend millions and probably billions of dollars trying to clean up their wastewater, but never really succeed.[quote]The modern flush toilet is largely based on the concept of “out of sight, out of mind”. It is also a prime example of selfishness: cleaning up the environment close to the user, while contaminating everyone’s general environment.[/quote]
It is interesting to note that at the same time that Water Closets were being developed, Earth Closets were, too. There was even one reportedly used in Buckingham Palace for a while. Over time, Water Closets won out as the standard for Modern Western Society, likely due to their ease of use and maintenance, as long as piped water comes to the house and sewage goes away.
Another key way in which the current, water-based sanitation system is “broken” is that it is based on the illogical, unsustainable and linear concept that natural resources should be used once and then thrown away. Flush toilets not only throw away huge amounts of water, but also all the nutrients found in the excrement.[pullquote]With a simple push of a lever, we effectively deplete our agricultural soils and contribute to the eutrophication of rivers, lakes and oceans and in them the formation of hypoxic dead zones.[/pullquote]
If these nutrients were instead given back properly to the soil (and if the population were stable), we could forget about the non-renewable, unsustainable chemical fertilizers that are currently the basis of Modern Western Society’s food production. Those who learn to recycle these nutrients in an orderly way now will have every advantage in the future when these chemicals run out, and when there are possibly 9 billion people on Planet Earth, all wanting to eat.
Water is so essential and vital that we simply cannot live without it. Nonetheless, modern homes in developed countries dump between 25 and 40% of their water down the toilet, and the number engineers use in Ecuador is closer to 75%, given the high incidence of unmaintained toilets through which water flows constantly. We need to promote a culture of respect for water, as a source of life, which should never be treated as a garbage dump.
If these are not enough reasons to consider the current water-based toilet to be broken, obsolete and illogical, please consider the following unreliable, unhygienic and not-so-easy aspects of flush toilets:
- They often need to be scrubbed after each use, if they are going to be presentable.
- They frequently need to be flushed more than once for everything to go away.
- They occasionally get plugged and need to be cleared with a plunger, with sewage splashing or overflowing out.
- They make so much noise that everyone in the building can hear when they get flushed.
- The great turbulence of flushing creates a plume of microscopic, fecally contaminated water droplets that then land on everything in the bathroom, including the toothbrushes.
Constructed wetlands are also important tools for treating wastewater, but they require a fair amount of land. On top of this, who knows how far all the different modern synthetic chemicals can travel in the water and the soil? So, in summary, it is most prudent to not mix our excrement in water from the beginning, especially if we have large numbers of people grouped together in a city.[/spoiler]
So the reason Colon Cancer is skyrocketing in the Western World today is because we aren’t completely clearing our bowels, thanks to a custom-made invention for a morbidly obese queen?
Yes, and not just colon cancer, but also constipation and hemorrhoids. The natural position human beings have used when defecating, over millions of years, since before we were people, has always been squatting. In this position, the outlet is straight and the body can eliminate its waste more easily, efficiently and completely. When sitting, the outlet is not straight, certain muscles contradict each other, one needs to push more, and not all of the feces come out, so there is more constipation, hemorrhoids, and the colon never gets a rest from being in contact with festering feces, causing a greater incidence of colon cancer).
Squatting has the added advantage that it is more hygienic, especially with respect to women, since the user’s private parts do not touch anything. (Most women apparently never actually sit on a public toilet, but actually sort of hover above, which is much more uncomfortable than squatting all the way down.) Also, the squatting position is more accessible and intuitive for little children, since the floor is the same height for everyone, while a toilet bowl made for adults is much too big, uncomfortable and unsafe for them. Furthermore, in Urine-diverting Dry Toilets (UDDTs), the squatting position allows for a more certain separation of the urine and the feces, plus it is easier and cheaper to build.
In Ecuador, where does all the sanitation waste go? How much water is used and what effect does this have on the environment?
Almost all of Ecuadorian cities’ wastewater goes straight into rivers or bays, except for Cuenca, Shushufindi, and a few other cases where wastewater treatment is done.
The amount of water is huge and the excrement’s nutrients fertilize algae that end up dying and thus consuming the available oxygen in the water, creating the eutrophication and hypoxic zones mentioned above. But the biggest threat is that of pathogens in the water, which are responsible for the majority of disease in the world.
Many people have daily contact with rivers, for bathing, washing clothes or drinking, even only minutes after others have defecated in it, so it is obvious how disease can proliferate. Need more proof? Check out this: [spoiler title=”Human Sanitation in Bombay” open=”1″ style=”1″][/spoiler]
I can just imagine the collective shit and piss from the hundreds of thousands of people living in Ecuadorian cities like Coca, Tena, and Puyo flowing into these Amazonian Rivers. What I find scary however is that this problem is not confined to Ecuador or even the South American Amazon but is worldwide.
What happens to communities that live on river banks, lakes, and areas prone to flooding with respect to worms, bacteria, and water-bourne diseases, like cholera that can be prevented with this system?
Yes, it is a discomforting thought, but the volume of shit is actually much greater if we remember that the millions of people who live in certain Andean cities in Ecuador, including Latacunga, Ambato, Riobamba, Cuenca, and Loja, also dump their waste into Amazonian rivers. Unfortunately, as you say, this situation is all too common in the world, where 90% of wastewater goes into the environment without proper treatment.
Even in countries like the United States, where things are presumably all under control, there are thousands of “sanitary accidents” every year, in which untreated sewage goes straight into the environment.
There are also numerous pharmaceuticals that cannot be removed from the water via conventional methods, such as antibiotics, antidepressives, and artificial hormones from birth control pills.
In addition, the current system of trying to kill the germs in the water with chemicals in one city, and the next downstream, and the next downstream, is a recipe for these germs to get resistant to these chemicals, especially if at the same time people are drinking and bathing in other peoples antibiotics. This has generated multiresistant strains of microbes that we cannot kill with chemicals to heal the people who get sick with them , nor can we be sure to disinfect a swimming pool even by adding chlorine.[quote]In terms of health, the worst thing about flooding is that everyone is in everyone else’s shit.[/quote]
This is an even bigger problem on the coast of Ecuador, where huge areas get flooded, with millions of people being affected, and it is getting worse with Global Climate Disruption. Urine-diverting Dry Toilets (UDDTs), on the other hand, can simply be built above the highest level of the flood waters.
One of the scariest results of all this fecal contamination, aside from diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, poliomyelitis, hepatitis, and other microbial diseases, is the high incidence of roundworms of the genus Ascaris, which infect about one-seventh of the world human population . There is a reason that the word for disgust in Spanish, “asco”, is so similar:
- These can be almost as thick as a pencil and up to 40 cm long.
- When babies are deparasitized, their diapers sometimes look like plates of noodles.
- Adult female roundworms produce 200,000 eggs per day and these can be viable in shaded, moist soil for years.
- The eggs do not just get swallowed and develop into adults in the intestines. Instead, they have intermediate stages that navigate in the host’s bloodstream, throughout the body. Eventually, they come out into the alveoli of the lungs, get coughed up and swallowed, and only then become adults.
- Roundworm infection is a big factor in many children doing poorly in school, since the worms consume so much of their food that little is left for the kids’ brains.
In Part 2 of this article Chris Canaday will tell us about the solution to human waste disposal and how it will solve much of the planets sustainability problems.