Majuro, June 27, 2012: An expert from Tuvalu is leading the construction of composting toilets in Majuro, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), to trial how effective they are at reducing septic pollution of Majuro’s main groundwater resource, the Laura water lens.
The dry eco-san composting toilets use very little water and have the twin benefits of both conserving water and preventing sewage from leaching out of septic systems and into the surrounding environment. The toilets have already been successfully trialled on Tuvalu’s main atoll of Funafuti, where 40 toilets have been constructed.
Tuvalu’s experience with these toilets has also generated interest in other Pacific island countries. Tonga has constructed two demonstration toilets in households on the island of Vava’u, while Nauru has installed them in several primary schools.The initiative is part of a regional Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) demonstration project to build the capacity of Pacific Island countries to manage water resources.
Pisi Seleganiu, Project Manager of Tuvalu’s GEF IWRM project currently in Majuro, believes composting toilets are the most appropriate sanitation technology for atoll countries which have scarce water resources and porous soils.
“Water is such a critical issue in Tuvalu, we recently experienced a serious drought, yet flush toilets that use up to a third of a family’s annual water supply are the norm. The septic systems connected to flush toilets are also poorly constructed and much of the waste inside them seeps out, polluting what little groundwater we have. Septic pollution also finds its way into our lagoons killing the reefs, meaning fishermen have to spend more on fuel to travel further away to catch fish,” Mr Seleganiu said.
“These toilets not only save water and prevent pollution but they also produce high quality compost that enriches our poor atoll soils. Many people are using the compost in their gardens to grow fresh fruit and vegetables, which has the added benefit of reducing household costs and increasing food security.”
Julius Lucky, Project Manager for the Marshall Islands GEF IWRM project, said RMI had a lot to learn from Tuvalu’s experience and that looking at all options to protect Majuro’s water was vital for the long term sustainability of the atoll.
“We have similar water and sanitation issues as Tuvalu but unlike Funafuti, Majuro has the advantage of still having a viable groundwater supply under Laura. With increased climate variability and the possibility of more intense droughts we need innovative solutions to protect what little water we have,” Mr Lucky said. “We are very fortunate to be able to learn from the experiences of our Pacific neighbours and the adoption of composting toilets should be a part of a range of initiatives to ensure the long term viability of our groundwater.”
Three composting toilets are being built in Laura, one at the Laura Lens Learning Centre and two at households that were selected through participation in outreach activities. The installation of the toilets will be followed up with community awareness activities and other initiatives, including the promotion of dry-litter pig waste management at 15 households in the Laura community and at one commercial piggery. Mr Lucky said several Laura residents had already approached him about scaling-up these pilot activities to involve more households.
Mr Seleganiu hoped that the experience in RMI mirrors what has already happened in Tuvalu.
“With all new toilet technology there is initial scepticism and questions like whether they are hygienic or smell. We faced this at the outset of our project but once people saw how composting toilets worked and experienced the real benefits they provide, they were satisfied that compost toilets weren’t very different to the flush toilets they were used to,” Mr Seleganiu said “Demand for the toilets have since increased and we plan to build another 60 on Funafuti and are also working on building them on Tuvalu’s outer islands.”
A film about Tuvalu’s experience with composting toilets can be seen here: http://www.pacific-iwrm.org/Tuvalu-ECOSAN.html
The GEF is funding a regional project to build the capacity of Pacific Island countries to manage water resources. 13 national demonstration projects are being run in 12 Pacific countries to show the practical benefits of integrated water resources and wastewater management.
The projects are executed regionally through the Secretariat of the Pacific Community’s Applied Geoscience and Technology Division (SOPAC). In partnership with SOPAC, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) are implementing agencies.