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Interviews

Viva Rocinha and the Rise of Citizen Journalism in Rio de Janeiros Favelas

in Citizen Journalism/Guerilla Journalism/Interviews by

citizen-journalism-favelaIt’s in disenfranchised communities around the world where citizen journalism over social media is empowering everyday people to write the news and nowhere is this more evident than in Rio de Janeiro.

Here the Favelas have historically struggled against the Brazilian government for the right to receive even basic civic services like sanitation and trash collection and are often victims of innaccurate or misleading reporting by Brazil’s mainstream media.

This I witnessed with my own eyes on the 15th of March, 2010 when 80 heavily-armed and violent military police called the BOPE invaded the Favela Rocinha, home to over 100,000 people, as a test run for its military pacification program during the lead up to the world cup.

What happened on the ground was not what was broadcast on TV.

rocinha favelaA large crowd of Rocinha locals gathered at the bottom of Cachopa Street and chanted: “Policía Roba!” Police Steal!

They were ignored by the embedded Brazilian media, being escorted by the BOPE, whose report that night on TV featured only residents who welcomed military pacification with open arms.

The BOPE however did not ignore the zoom-lense camera I carried and approached me to ask my name and nationality, my reason for being in Rocinha, what Visa I used to enter Brazil, and whether I was a journalist (I told them I wasn’t) and wrote it all down in a little black book before ordering me back to my apartment.

Until that day I had always felt safe as a foreigner living in Rocinha which was then controlled by the bandido drug gang Amigos dos Amigos. I almost always left my apartment in the sector of Paulo Brito unlocked because common crime was extremely rare and I was unaware it’s illegal for BOPE to enter a home without a warrant except in the Favela.

citizen-journalism-favela2As I loaded the photos of the BOPE onto my laptop I wondered what makes someone a “journalist” and if I could honestly call myself one having studied Network Engineering over a more relevent field.

It was then that two BOPE in black flak jackets and balaclavas silently entered my apartment then screamed at me to hold my hands in the air while pointing their machine guns at my head.

They were only there to scare.

Interview with Michel Silva of Viva Rocinha

A year and a half later a citizen journalism platform called Viva Rocinha was founded during the November 2011 military occupation of Rocinha which paved the way for pacification.

Fast forward another three years, a month before the World Cup kickoff, and Viva Rocinha has over 14,800 active members all sharing and commenting on community news as diverse as politics and protests, live updates on traffic congestion, missing persons reports, as well as cautious updates on the conduct of the “UPP” – Pacifying Police Units – who enforce the law in the Favela once the BOPE flush out the bandidos.

Viva Rocinha was founded by Michel Silva when he was 18 years old and like myself Silva has no formal background in journalism. What he has learnt however in three years running this remarkable community media platform with his sister Michele is much more than what the best universities in the world could ever hope to teach in a journalism degree. I had to reach out and ask a few questions…

Favela Backalley
Rocinha Backalley
Chekhov: Is Rocinha safer since the UPP pacified the Favela?

Michel Silva: I’d rather not answer.

Chekhov Does Brazil’s mainstream media accurately report on the issues facing people living in Rio de Janeiro’s many Favelas?

Michel Silva: I’d rather not answer.

Chekhov: Can you tell us about the “Big Brother Rocinha” ?

Michel Silva: “Big Brother Rocinha” emerged with the entrance of the UPP in Rocinha. There are 80 cameras scattered at strategic points in the community that monitor the streets and entrances to alleyways. They are used to reduce crime or monitor the movement of the police and residents.

Chekhov: How have smartphones changed independent and citizen journalism inside Rocinha?

Michel Silva: A citizen journalist can get lots of content using a smartphone. The new phones have changed our way of action in community journalism and now information arrives faster throughout the community. When I bought my first smartphone it was great because I could provide more info with speed and reliability.

Chekhov: When you started Viva Rocinha at 18 years did you have any formal experience in journalism?

colourful Rocinha resident with cat
colourful Rocinha resident with cat
Michel Silva: I’ve never had experience with formal journalism. I like reading the newspaper and admire journalism. I played an online game called Habbo, through this game I created a news site about this game for users.

I created the site in 2008 and closed it in 2010. After that I studied about WordPress and Blogger and then had the idea of ​​creating Viva Rocinha in early 2011. Viva Rocinha became active in late 2011 with the military intervention in Rocinha.

Chekhov: Why is community important? How does a community media page like Viva Rocinha empower a community?

Michel Silva: I created Viva Rocinha in order to democratize access to information in the community. An efficient vehicle for communication didn’t exist in our community but with the popularization of the Internet in the Favela alternative journalism has grown significantly. Today Viva Rocinha serves thousands of residents over the internet .

Chekhov: Can you explain your first viral post on the 7th of may of a policeman using pepper spray on a dog and afterwards on a girl? Why is important to hold police accountable with community media?
citizen journalism rio de janeiro

Michel Silva: The photo of police firing pepper spray into a dog was taken by a colleague Dominic Peixoto from newspaper O Globo. I was one of the first people who shared the photo on Viva Rocinha. After a few hours the photo had over 10 thousand likes on Facebook, 15,000 shares and thousands of comments. The repurcussions for this case was that this police officer was removed from the service.

The photo of police firing pepper spray in the face of a girl was in another community. I don’t know who took the photo, but it also resonated. It shows that we have many untrained policemen.

Chekhov: that is the power of citizen journalism. You can follow Viva Rocinha over Facebook and Twitter as well as their website Vivarocinha.org as Michel and Michele provide accurate news from Rocinha during the world cup.

the view from the peak of Rocinha at sunset
the view from the peak of Rocinha at sunset

Vilma Vargas Uncensored: the Caricaturist drawing circles around Ecuador´s attacks on freedom of expression

in Interviews/news by
vilma vargas
vilma-vargas2
Vilma Vargas in front of her mural in Coca
What happens to a democracy when its journalists and artists are too afraid to criticise those in power and express themselves freely?

This is one of the questions we ask Vilma Vargas – a rising talent in the Ecuadorian art scene who was twice selected for the “World Press Cartoon” in Portugal and awarded first prize at RESET 11.11.11 in Mexico for best caricaturist.

Under the current Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa the coerced closures of numerous media stations that do not comply with the new Law of Communication as well as lawsuits seeking millions in damages against journalists, some who have been forced out of work and threatened with imprisonment, physically assaulted and had their family homes raided at gunpoint by government officials have all contributed to what Vargas calls “one of the gravest moments” the free press in her country has ever faced.

This however hasn´t intimidated Vargas into censoring her outspoken style and while other Ecuadorian journalists have become fearful of rocking the boat her caricatures stand out like a Cotopaxi-sized-pimple on President Correa´s chin.

A Woman in a Profession Dominated by Men

Chekhov: When the newspaper El Comercio asked six artists to draw a comic with the theme “If Superheroes lived in Ecuador” you where the only woman selected. Does that mean there are 5 male artists for every female or do you think artists of your gender are often overlooked?

Vilma Vargas: Ecuador is characterized as having several renowned artists, as well as many caricaturists. Unfortunately in the realm of graphic humour there are some women who remain in the shadows and very few who have won a place in the press. But in graphic humour like it is in other areas: women are still relegated to second place.

            Also history has always been written by men. In the history of art, there exists several women artists, sculptors, philosophers, between other important women that have also been looked over.

vilma-vargas-superhero
Chekhov: What advice can you give to younge female artists searching for their artistic voice and fighting to be noticed in the world?

Vilma Vargas: I believe that in my country, women and people in general are more worried about how to solve their basic needs than perform some type of art. However people who do choose to have an artistic vocation should know that art is a way of life where you need to embrace risk and to express yourself is the best form of freedom.

Chekhov: Then for art to become a lifestyle you need to focus on it 100% which is one of the reasons you left your career in architecture?

Vilma Vargas: I believe it was more of a necessity. Passions sometimes impose and its necessary to renounce certain areas of your life to focus on creative work. But I haven’t abandoned architecture completely, its just that “art” wont let me abandon it at all.

On Government Attacks Against Freedom of Expression

Chekhov: Do you receive enough from your caricatures published in the newspaper Hoy to support this lifestyle or do you need to find other sources of income?

Vilma Vargas: Like you know, the press is passing through one of its gravest ever moments because of government harassment regarding freedom of expression and that has affected various media outlets, including the newspaper where I work. I live off my drawings, illustrations, and ceramic murals.

"Press Freedom"
“Press Freedom”
Chekhov: One of the major themes to your work is Freedom of Expression, can you tell us the meaning behind drawings of yours like the one of Press Freedom being attacked by bats?

Vilma Vargas: That drawing is based on an engraving by Goya called: “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters”. – What I wanted it to represent is the press being attacked by various shadows.

            The worst part is reality is not like the caricature, if you have a different opinion you will not be disturbed by innocent bats but with the entire weight of the law which almost always responds with the interests of the Government.

Chekhov: What happens to a democracy when journalists fear investigating and criticizing those who are in power?

Vilma Vargas: First there wouldn’t be a democracy, because if not, you wouldn’t be afraid to have an opinion, to criticize others or yourself. The latent risk with these measures and pressures and media laws that infringe on our freedoms is that journalists and news media will start self-censoring, which impairs peoples ability to get information or adequate research on various topics.

The “Legalization” of Attacks Against Journalism

Ecuador´s new "Law of Communication"
Ecuador´s new “Law of Communication”
Chekhov: What is the new Law of Communication in Ecuador like and in your caricature who are the people in suits and ties coming out of the Trojan horse?

Vilma Vargas: Even before the implementation of the “Law of Communications” there was some pressure and harassment through various means. Now the only thing its done is “legalize” these practices. In the drawing I represent a law disguised as a gift which is lawful but inside swarm several beings that already have incorporated prohibitions in mind.

Chekhov: Can you tell us about the correlation between what is happening on the national level with respect to the journalists who fear criticizing president Correa and how that has empowered politicians on the municipal level to threaten, harass, and force out of work journalists who are investing municipal corruption like Ignacio Ramos Mancheno?

Vilma Vargas: The problem is that the government only believes in what they say and they put together an entire strategy on the Saturday TV Broadcast Chains to convince us of “their truth”. Thus, it is normal that there are lots of clashes with voices outside of the ruling party.

The former mayor of Riobamba, Juan Salazar, in jail for corruption.
The former mayor of Riobamba, Juan Salazar, in jail under investigation for corruption.
            I don’t know very well the story behind Ignacio’s case, but its clear that like many other people working in the press they have closed the doors on him for not agreeing with the powers that be. Graphic humour is monitored as well, we can already see cases where caricaturists have been mentioned in the Saturday TV Broadcast Chains.

Chekhov: Can you tell us about my favourite caricature, The Zebra Cow, and how social networks helped spread messages like this caricatures and other images from citizen journalists in their fight to unseat and imprison the former mayor Juan Salazar on corruption?

Vilma Vargas: Its been a long time since I touched the themes of my city owing to bad experiences I had with the directors of a certain newspaper that censured my drawings, however given the importance of the issue, I was again expressing my opinion about the city and from that came the drawing of the mayor from which I understand did not offer any grace to his followers.

Drilling for oil in the most biodiverse place on the planet
Drilling for oil in the most biodiverse place on the planet
Chekhov: Recently a lot of your caricatures are focused on President Correas decision to drill inside the Yasuni National Park for oil. Can you tell us your feelings about the Yasuni and if you had the opportunity to visit it when you were painting the mural for the bus terminal at Coca?

Vilma Vargas: In effect, I had the opportunity to paint the Mural of el Coca and see the breathtaking nature we have. The city of Coca is a population that has been generated because of the extraction of petroleum.

            Concerning the refusal to conserve the Yasuni is not up to the government to decide, its a decision of the country, its something that concerns us all. With this news the world will realise that we have a government that doesn’t give priority to conserving the natural wonders of Ecuador.

Vilma Vargas art
“Executive – Legislative – Judicial”
Chekhov: After the journalist Emilio Palacio wrote that President Correa was a dictator he fled to the United States where he received political asylum to escape three years in jail and 4 million dollars in damages. If you continue to draw caricatures of President Correa like the one with three heads that represent the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government have you thought of the possibility that one day you to might have to leave the country if you wish to continue expressing yourself freely?

Vilma Vargas: To report and make art or say what one thinks always brings risks. To be free and feel differently too.

            While my lucidity has permitted me to continue drawing it may sound counter-intuitive, but the worse the country gets, the more work there is for us caricaturists.

Chekhov: You can see more of Vilmas art on her website: http://www.vilma-vargas.com/
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Luis Xavier Solis on the 55,140 refugees in Ecuador less famous than Julian Assange

in Human Rights/Interviews/Rights of Refugees by

colombia_armyToday on Chekhov’s Kalashnikov we are going to talk with Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca who works for the Comittee of Human Rights of Orellana in the Ecuadorian Amazon. This organization which works closely with UNHCR is in charge of protecting and defending some of the worlds most vulnerable and forgotten people – refugees that have fled Colombians civil war in search for asylum and a better life in Ecuador.

Chekhov: Can you explain your work, the organization where you work, and what you specialize in?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: I work in two areas through a project with UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) 1.- Consulting and advocacy for people in need of international protection, in this case especially for Colombian refugees who are the majority of people who need international protection by the Colombian internal conflict. 2. – Counselling and Advocacy in cases where human rights have been violated, in recent cases we have have had were against human rights violations by the police.

[pullquote align=”right”]FOR REFUGEES:
if you come to Ecuador the first think you must do approach a human rights organizationor ACNUR in Ecuador, inform yourself about the request for asylum before you reach 15 days in the country otherwise the Ecuadorian government will not consider your request.

Refugees should contact the following organizations on the northern Ecuadorian border:
– Servivio Jesuita para refugiados
– ACNUR
– Fundación Tarabita
– Asylum Access Ecuador
– Federación de mujeres de Sucumbios
– Oxfam
– Comité de Derechos Humanos de Orellana,
– Defensoría del Pueblo de Sucumbios y Orellana
– Cualquier otra sede, estas organizaciones trabajamos en refugio y podemos brindar asesoría.
[/pullquote]

Chekhov: What are the statistics, that is the number of Colombian refugees who are living in Ecuador and especially in the provinces of Sucumbios and Orellana?

Chekhov: What are the statistics, that is the number of Colombian refugees that are living in Ecuador especially in the provinces of Sucumbíos and Orellana?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: well in Ecuador there are around 56,000 refugees of which 90% are of Colombian nationality! The other nationalities are Palestinians, Haitians, Spanish, Cubans, etc.

Chekhov: and how does the Ecuadorian government treat the Colombian refugees in comparison with that of other nations?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: well you´ve got to remember the major part of Colombian refugees were recognised and registered in Ecuador in 2009-2010 after the Bombing of Angostura. Before 2012 Ecuadorian legislation was less rigorous until the issuance of Decree 1182 of May 30, 2012 which restricted access to asylum.

We´ve heard from different areas in the government its position that refugees are an expense to the country principally Colombians which are the majority however this does not take into account the contribution they have made to the Ecuadorian economy with their labour and microenterprises. The government with the issuance of this decree severely restricted access to the right to shelter, so much that of the 100% of requests for shelter only 4% are accepted when before the decree it was about 60%.

Chekhov: and they are rejected legitimate refugees now?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: the majority yes, people who have elements of refugees, as well with such small percentages almost all are left out.

Chekhov: and what happens when they reject one´s asylum, they have to return to Colombia or do they stay in Ecuador?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: that´s the problem, in lots of cases when there are refugee elements, the need for international protection, they cannot return.

[quote style=”1″]Suppose you are a refugee and your country does not protect you or does not want to protect you, therefore if he comes to seek refuge in another country there is a need for protection, either a regular or irregular armed group, that pursues them, threatens them, makes them fear for their lives or for their political expressions, social, racial, etc.

In lots of cases we have seen that the refugees stay in Ecuador without official documents which puts them in a vulnerable situation, they can be exploited laborally or sexually.[/quote]This is because the current government decree (1182) left off numbers to the right to be able to recognise victims of violence that the law had previously incorporated under the declaration of Cartegena, but it is no longer beholden in Ecuadorian law. That was part of the law and therefore should be applied.

Life For refugees in Ecuador less famous than Julian Assange

assange asilo
Julian Assange in Ecuador´s London Embassy

Chekhov: everybody has heard of the Ecuador´s most famous refugee, the Australian Julian Assange, can you tell us about some of the refugees that have fled violence in Colombia but have been forgotten by the Ecuadorian state and the rest of the world?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: …what you say is precisely the contradiction that has befallen the Ecuadorian state, already on a global level and in a principled way it gave asylum to Assange and a pass to Edward Snowden, however the life of Colombian refugees is not that easy.

The fact of fleeing from a conflict of over 50 years is very complicated, to get to a different albeit close country, finding a place to live, where to work, where to raise children… These issues are really sobering to think about.

[pullquote align=”right”] “Up to June 2013 the Ecuadorian government has recognized 55,141 refugees in the country. Since 2000, when there were 390 refugees, 168 525 people have applied for refugee status in Ecuador. About 23% of them are children and adolescents.”
ACNUR in Ecuador

Testimonials from Colombian Refugees
[/pullquote]

A lot of the refugees in Ecuador that have fled the Colombian conflict were only able to bring identification documents so there access to rights is very precarious. Generally the same authorities that are making systems where [refugees] are unable to register because of the number of refugee visas, is the one for social security and education.

Afterwards they also become vulnerable because when they start to perform jobs they are poorly paid, being characterized by cheap hard labour, in other cases they are not even paid for their labour…

This is the case for those who do find work, for the rest they have to look at finding more informal ways to earn a living, ways where they are exploited for their situation of always being on the move, which is to say the solutions aren’t comprehensive. There is still much to do in terms of providing refuge, while we agree that it is not just an Ecuadorian problem but an international one, but I think the government should deal with more attention to this sector.

Ejercito Ecuatoriano
Ejercito Ecuatoriano
[quote style=”1″]The problems are greatest in the zones by the border where the both the Ecuadorian and Colombian civilian populations live in a situation of uncertainty.

They are already violations of rights by the Ecuadorian military, the Colombian military, and armed groups, this is to say they are a population living in the line of fire.[/quote]

Women and Children Refugees from Colombia

refugiadas colombianas
The Federation of Women in Sucumbíos is a program that gives comprehensive care to women refugees from Colombia, where programa de atención integral a mujeres refugiadas de Colombia, which “promotes the end of impunity for cases of domestic violence against women.”
Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: Also you have to remember that 70% of Colombian refugees are women and children.

Chekhov: and what happened to the fathers and husbands?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: there are lots of motives, they were assasinated, they have been disappeared, or the women are on there own, or the husbands come afterwards…

For the part of ACNUR and other social organizations like us at the Committee of Human Rights of Orellana, we have tried to help, provide counselling so there rights are not violated, however the number that we meet is still small compared to the refugee population in total.

Chekhov: can you tell us about some of these recent cases where the human rights of refugees have been violated by police?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: There exists many occassions where because of the movement of people that need asylum do not have the correct documentation to travel throughout the country, whether thats because they havent sought asylum with the Ecuadorian state or because the authorities do not know how to identify a refugee and the rights they have.

There exists and continues to exist various detentions by police of people who need asylum, however this is to ignore the constitutional rights of refugees who are in parts 9, 40, 41 and others of the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of movement, the right to asylum and refuge, universal citizenship.

The police have no power in their grading of if a person is a refugee or not so all you can do is apply the documentation and if the person does not have it says they are a refugee or is in need of international protection what needs to happen is to refer the case to the Department of Redwhat to do is to refer the case to the Directorate of Refugees with their facility to analyse and consider the case.

What we know is that there are still abuses principally when they detain refugees working in prostitution, starting first with that yes they are recognised as refugees and can work in whatever lawful activity such as prostitution, secondly you cannot be detained and have their documents withdrawn because the police do not have the power to do that.

The best way to end these abuses is to denounce them so that they do not repeat and to sanction those responsible for denying these human rights.

There also exists illegal detentions of refugees without respect due process, only because they are presumed to have commited a crime because of the stigma that much of the Ecuadorian authorities have of refugees from Colombia.

The World Refugee Crisis

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: The topic of the global refugee crisis as you know is a phenomenon that isn´t going to finish any time soon, rather the situation has worsened, principally in the Middle East with Syria, North Africa, and how things are going there will be added to by more climate refugees and by the adverse conditions in which the world is developing….

For this I believe the solution legal, social, but in the background is POLICY.

Chekhov: Right now in Australia there is an electoral campaign where the two main political parties are trying to demonstrate to a xenophobic and sometimes racist electorate who can create the toughest policies against refugees to send a message and stop them entering the country, what do you say to them?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: …what is happening on a global level is to believe that economic crises and lack of employment is due to refugees, that economic migrants are those who take away jobs, however this is only an appearance to hide the truth, which is that the crises, lack of employment is due to the accumulation of capital in a few hands, in the minority, less than 1% of the population.. these political speeches stick in times of global economic crises and sometimes ordinary people usually believe them.

It is therefore important to be more critical about where these speeches are coming from, speeches that are supported by the mainstream media that are repeated until they permeate in the minds of the population.

[quote style=”1″]You have to put yourself in teh shoes of the migrants and refugees and understand there reality, you cannot restrict the right for refuge, its a human right, and governments around the world need to respect that right[/quote]

Refugees under Juan Manuel Santos and Alvaro Uribe

santos y uribe Chekhov: I want to ask you of the armed groups: paramilitary, military, FARC Guerillas, who are causing the most violations against human rights?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: generally I believe the Colombian military and the paramilitary. But it seems like the guerrilla in Colombia have forgotten there founding principles and there exists many rural people that are persecuted and killed.

What happens is that it is a field of war, a civilian has to pay the armed groups without reason in many cases, if the armed groups see a frightened farmer, one that was forced to give water to the paramilitaries or the military, they are branded as an informant o vice versa.

Chekhov: what is the level of refugees under the former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe in comparison with the current President Juan Manuel Santos?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: Ive already mentioned that the majority of Colombian refugees were granted asylum between 2009-2010, during the government of Uribe after the bombing of Angostura, where the Colombian military bombed Ecuador.

But in reality there is not a big difference in the amount of people that are request asylum in Ecuador between the government of Uribe or Santos. The violence still continues to be common, armed groups of the state or non-state continue to displace people in Colombia, the number of displaced Colombians is the biggest in the world with almost 2.4 million people and the numbers have not fallen.
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The Guerrilla Movement Waging War Against Deforestation

in Food & Water Security/Interviews by
map for cloud forest conservation
Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena biodiversity hotspot
 
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.”

Geovani of the Pachamama ArmyIts 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.

map of cloud forest deforestation
UNDER SIEGE: The coastal forests of Ecuador

Today approximately 2% of Ecuador´s coastal forests are left in sparse disconnected patches scattering the country´s coast. These are the most threatened tropical forests on planet earth.

Forward Operating Base “el Kade”

cloud forest waterfall
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]
cloud forest leaf
Giant leaves that make you feel like you´re in Jurassic Park.

 
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.”

4WD-stuck-in-mudIt´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:
clouds over coastal andes ecuador

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.

deforestation ecuador
Deforestation on the mountainside above “el Kade”

“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.
clouded-forests
“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]

The Shitty State of Human Sanitation (Part 2: The Solution)

in Food & Water Security/Interviews by
sanitation

water-sanitationIn 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]

Mr Shit and Ms Piss in English
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]

improved sanitation systemCan 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. Sit Right

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.
[/quote]

UDD-dry-toiletThis 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.

dry-toilet-sanitationThere 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.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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”]


[/spoiler] family with better sanitation
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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMore 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” ]


[/spoiler]

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.

volunteers at dry toilet 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.

Peak Phosphorous is the scariest thing you’ve never heard of.[/pullquote]

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.

dry toilet sanitation system
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:
http://inodoroseco.blogspot.com/
http://omaere.wordpress.com/
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The Shitty State of Human Sanitation (Part 1: The Problem)

in Food & Water Security/Interviews by

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.

chris-canaday-sanitation-toiletsI 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.
[spoiler title=”Expand for scenarios when flush toilets are ecologically sustainable”]In the interest of full disclosure, flush toilets can be somewhat ecologically and socially sustainable in places where water is abundant, human settlement is dispersed, and the soil is absorbent, such that septic tanks (for settling out the solids) and leach lines (= drain fields; for allowing the contaminated water to absorb into the soil) can work properly, at more than 16 meters from wells or streams, and if the septic tank sludge is treated in reedbeds.

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?
water-pollution-cartoon
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.Ascaris

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.
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