Adapting to a Changing Environment


Entry Overview

General Info
Email :
Organization Address: 
#2 Rue A. Martial et Rue Jean Baptiste, Delmas 33
Port-au-Prince, HT 6115
Population Impacted: 

Port-au-Prince metropolitan area (27,065.07 sq km)

Major Occupations: 
51% agriculture, 38% services, 11% industry
Local resources the community depends on, and for what purpose: 
Land with nutrient-rich topsoil for subsistence and commercial agriculture, animal husbandry, and carbon storage. Fresh water for agriculture, drinking water, and hygiene. Forests for agro-forestry income (charcoal, fruit, etc) and flood control.)
Local threats to resources: 
Soil fertility has declined 20% in the last decade from erosion and years of heavy use with no soil amendments. Rivers and waterways are choked with untreated sewage and frequently flood. Over 98% of the mountainsides in Haiti have been deforested.
Climate Hazards: 
The Haitian community is extremely apprehensive about the rapid loss of topsoil and potential changes in the frequency and strength of hurricanes and storms in the Caribbean, which cause increased floods, mudslides, and droughts. In a detailed 2009 report from Oxfam International titled “Haiti: A Gathering Storm. Climate Change and Poverty,” it is noted that the global scientific community agrees that warming ocean waters will increase the intensity and most likely the frequency of hurricanes in the Caribbean hurricane belt where Haiti is located. Haitians report stronger and more frequent hurricanes, longer dry spells, and less frequent but stronger rains, leading to increased flooding. In 2008 alone, it is estimated that 900,000 Haitians were affected by a series of four devastating hurricanes, causing a tragic loss of life, severe food shortages and loss of crops, and infrastructure damages that equaled about 15% of the country’s total GDP. During these storms, the third most populous city, Gonaives lost 450 lives as it was buried in mudslides. In addition to immediate risks of injury or mortality in extreme weather events, changing weather patterns can have long-term impacts on community health, such as increased malnutrition during droughts and greater incidence of diarrheal disease during floods. A primary example of this is the cholera epidemic in Haiti which worsens after each rainfall.
Level of exposure to these hazards: 
The majority of Haitians are extremely vulnerable to unpredictable weather events. The Port-au-Prince metropolitan region, the major population center in the country, is in a low-lying area at the base of deforested mountains, making it prone to flooding and mudslides. Over 70% of the population lives in densely-packed informal settlements with no access even to basic sanitation. Hurricanes, floods, and droughts affect the vast majority of the population’s health and livelihoods by causing disease, infrastructure damage, crop failure, and depletion of topsoil. Of course, the 2010 earthquake only worsened the population’s already severe vulnerability. And currently, along with unsafe urban living conditions and damaged forest and freshwater ecosystems, Haiti is currently battling the largest cholera epidemic in recent global history.
Level of sensitivity: 
Even small tropical thunderstorms have the potential to cause widespread flooding, mudslides, and soil erosion. The Port-au-Prince metropolitan region and surrounding agricultural areas are currently experiencing higher than average damage each rainy season and this trend is expected to increase as a result of climate change. The following resources are directly impacted by climate hazards with significant impacts on the two million people living in this region: a) Soil: The cycle of soil degradation is accelerated by climate hazards making communities more vulnerable with each event. - Erosion and mudslides cause further removal of already depleted topsoil. This, along with a lack of soil nutrients, make reforestation efforts difficult and reduce yields for farmers. - Droughts reduce soil productivity decreasing the incomes of farmers and others who depend on the food and agricultural sector for sustenance and livelihoods, and also result in increased food prices for urban consumers as more food imports are required. b) Freshwater: Because of poor infrastructure, environmental degradation, and lack of access to sanitation and health services, each rainy season increases freshwater contamination. - Pathogens leaching from latrines into groundwater and streams results in increased waterborne disease such as cholera and typhoid. In Haiti, diarrheal disease is the leading cause of death in children under five. - Increased erosion and sedimentation of fragile coastal ecosystems results in less fish and less fishing income. c) Forests: 70% of the Haitian population use charcoal made from wood for cooking, meaning that forest resources are already extremely strained. The downward cycle of soil degradation and poverty brought on by climate change further exacerbates deforestation pressure as demand for additional forest-based income increases. - Dwindling resources make income generation based on fragile forest ecosystems even more insecure. - Reduced topsoil decreases the success rates of future reforestation efforts.
Level of adaptive capacity: 
Current adaptive capacity is extremely low. In order to bolster adaptive capacity in anticipation of an increase in extreme weather events, Haiti needs to regenerate damaged soils, protect the remaining uncontaminated freshwater resources, remediate polluted aquatic systems, and reforest the barren mountainsides that currently threaten population centers with their potential for flashfloods and mudslides. The communities’ ability to cope with natural disasters and other climate hazards would also be improved with increased livelihood generation, increased diversity of income sources, and improved infrastructure.
Describe Your Solution: 

Ecological sanitation (EcoSan) is a low-cost method used to safely convert human wastes into rich compost for agricultural use, thereby transforming a public health problem into a sustainable solution for increasing the resiliency of ecosystems and for reducing human dependency on water and chemical fertilizers. EcoSan technologies also provide communities with a dignified, simple way to increase adaptability to resource changes brought about by climate change through the following mechanisms: (a) Improved food security. EcoSan compost provides a low-cost, endless supply of soil amendments to increase agricultural yields in both rural and urban areas and to counteract the negative impact of soil erosion and degradation. (b) Freshwater conservation. In Haiti there are only two small government-run waste treatment facilities for a population of over ten million. These two facilities, both located near the capital city of Port-au-Prince, treat the toilet wastes from less than five percent of the population. For the remainder of toilets in the country, there is no other option but to dump wastes directly into rivers or canals or to leave them, untreated, in underground reservoirs where they often leach into groundwater or flood into surrounding waterways. SOIL’s EcoSan toilets and waste treatment facilities help stop the pollution of Haiti’s water resources and prevent the further spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera. (c) Improved risk management. By increasing the viability of reforestation initiatives and improving the absorptive capacity of topsoil, EcoSan compost helps reduce the risk of future flash floods and mudslides. Over the longer term, EcoSan compost helps abate future climate change by increasing soil carbon sequestration. The Marin Carbon Project at the University of California Berkeley has found that applying a mere one half inch of compost on range land in California increased soil carbon by three megagrams per hectare and increased overall ecosystem carbon.  Given this rate of sequestration, if a one half inch one time application of compost was put on fifty percent of California’s grasslands, the increase in carbon sequestration would fully offset California’s entire commercial and residential carbon emissions.  (d) Livelihood diversification. Revenue captured throughout the EcoSan cycle (toilet construction, toilet user fees and maintenance, waste treatment fees, compost sales), can be used by small sanitation sector social businesses to create jobs and support long-term economic development. The introduction of sustainable sanitation sector jobs diversifies the population’s potential livelihood activities while improving a vital social service, reducing economic dependence on the agriculture and food sector and allowing for those who do farm to do so with more success.

Ecological Costs: 
(a) By concentrating human wastes in one location for treatment through composting it is possible to create point source pollution (nutrients and/or pathogens) with a waste that was previously more widely distributed.
Ecological Benefit: 
The ecological benefits of EcoSan are that it: (a) Enhances soil microbial diversity through the addition of compost, which promotes pathogen reduction through competition and improves soil ecosystem resiliency.
Economic Indicators used to measure benefit: 

SOIL conducts socio-economic household surveys before and after implementing projects and records data on willingness to pay for sanitation services and compost (SOIL 2011, SOIL 2013). SOIL also carefully records its own organizational expenses and income in order to better identify potential business opportunities for independent enterprises, such as toilet maintenance services or waste treatment operations) or used by households to augment their income and increase the diversity of their income sources (such as farm-based businesses or value added products).

Community/Social Cost: 
SOIL only implements projects when requested by the local community and all project designs are improved over time through an iterative process involving community feedback at every step. SOIL continually strives to include key stakeholders (such as government sanitation agencies, sanitation sector entrepreneurs, local community-based organizations, and beneficiaries) in project implementation in order to ensure the project has the broad support necessary to continue even without SOIL’s involvement, and that others will not perceive the positive ecological, social, and economic benefits of this solution as a threat to their livelihoods or culture. Potential social costs include: (a) Interpersonal conflicts among community members who receive services and those who do not (both sanitation and agriculture related). (b) Stigma associated with working in the sanitation sector. SOIL tries to mitigate this by valorizing both the jobs created and the waste itself. Employees working with SOIL are encouraged to view their job as environmental stewards as opposed to waste collectors.
Community/Social Benefit: 
SOIL is increasingly observing that early adopters of ecological sanitation technologies are increasing demand for improved sanitation technologies around Haiti. An example of this is in Port-au-Prince where SOIL’s household EcoSan toilets have slowly and organically begun to increase in number around the capital with no direct promotion by SOIL. Rather, individuals and families have come to SOIL requesting an EcoSan toilet in their home and indicating their willingness to pay a small monthly service fee in order to have that toilet maintained and the wastes treated at SOIL’s EcoSan composting waste treatment site. SOIL also has an education and outreach program in which Haitian staff train groups of interested community members in methods of EcoSan, promoting shared knowledge of sanitation methods. Public toilets and hand washing stations increase social pressure to adhere to the sanitation methods learned in the workshops and allow for others to learn by observing. Social benefits include: (a) An enhanced appreciation of human connection to our environment through an understanding of the EcoSan cycle gained in SOIL’s educational events. (b) Valorization of those working in the field of sanitation or waste collection.
Community/Social Indicators used to measure benefit: 
SOIL measures community and social indicators on the number of participants in attending EcoSan trainings and workshops (1000+ to date), number of people downloading the SOIL Guide to EcoSan (800+ from 50+ countries), waste treatment and compost production capacity (5,000+ gallons per week and increasing rapidly).
Economic Cost: 

The upfront costs of purchasing compost can be challenging for small farmers working with a limited budget. Because compost does not have the immediate effects of chemical fertilizer it can be less cost effective in the short term, though it is much more cost effective in the long term. SOIL’s compost is currently sold for $3 (USD) per 22 pound sack, a cost significantly higher than the average price of $12.50 for a 100 pound sack of chemical fertilizer. The long-term economic benefits of compost application are currently being researched due to their exciting potential to generate sustainable agricultural practices and livelihoods.   SOIL is currently charging this amount for EcoSan compost because there is demonstrated market demand, and we’ve been able to consistently sell out of compost at this price point. SOIL’s largest compost customers to date have either been businesses or international NGOs with the means to purchase expensive soil amendments, or agricultural groups that have participated in SOIL trainings on how to use EcoSan compost to improve long-term soil health. In the future, SOIL plans to explore increasing waste treatment capacity and decreasing compost price in order to sell more cost at a more affordable rate while still subsidizing or breaking even on the costs of providing waste treatment services.

Economic Benefit: 

(a) Increased livelihood opportunities in sanitation, agriculture and food, and forestry sectors. This includes incomes derived from EcoSan toilet sales, waste collection, the construction of compost bins, compost sales, and the sale of fruit from fruit trees. We are thrilled to observe the beginnings of a demand-driven sustainable sanitation sector in Port-au-Prince.   (b) Increased and diversified crop production in general for farmers due to more abundant and nutrient-rich topsoil leading to higher incomes and greater purchasing power to support local businesses. (c) In the short term, reduced medical costs to families due to improved sanitation facilities and reduced water contamination.  (d) In the long term, reduced infrastructure damage from hurricanes, floods, and mudslides. (e) Women generally bear the brunt of household labor associated with sanitation and hygiene, such as collecting water and caring for children with water-borne disease. Providing reliable, safe basic sanitation services frees up women’s time to pursue diversified economic activities. (f) Locally-produced agricultural products reduce the dependence on foreign imports, decreasing the risk of inflation of necessary food goods.  (g) Compost use reduces future costs of using potentially expensive chemical inputs to treat polluted water and soil because it is a locally-produced, endlessly available soil amendment that recycles nutrients. 

Ecological Indicators used to measure benefit: 

SOIL documents soil quality, agricultural yields compared to alternative or no soil amendment conditions, and reforestation success metrics (number of trees planted and the health of seedlings). SOIL is also about to begin a collaboration with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to look at changes in microbial diversity throughout the composting process and following application to soils using DNA analysis of microbial community dynamics.

What were/are the challenges your community faced in implementing this solution?: 

We believe SOIL's successful track record in a country and in a sector where other organizations have too often struggled to succeed is attributable to: (a) Cultural fluency. The language used in the office is the local language (Haitian Creole), and staff live and work in the communities they serve. (b) Long-term dedication to Haiti. (c) Extreme frugality. Items are made or purchased locally, and SOIL has no office outside of Haiti. (d) Inclusive process of program design and implementation. Beneficiaries are consulted at every step, and programs are only implemented based on local request. (e) Commitment to social business development. Programs are designed with identified income streams, and spin-off enterprises are encouraged and supported.  There are still many challenges in front of us: Haiti’s extreme vulnerability to natural disasters, political uncertainty, the largest cholera epidemic in recent global history, and fluctuating funding, to name a few. But, as it’s been these past six productive years, we have faith that the dedication of our team of 67 staff - all passionate experts in the fields of sanitation, business development and agriculture will carry this project successfully through. As the Haitian proverb says, “Men anpil, chay pa lou” “With many hands, the burden is light”.

Describe the community-based process used to develop the solution including tools and processes used: 

When SOIL first began working in Haiti in 2006, SOIL employees (many with environmental engineering or ecology backgrounds) presented an array of possible environmental technologies in a series of community-based workshops and solicited informal feedback to determine which of Haiti’s challenges were most difficult to overcome and which solutions were most desired. The two most urgent needs identified by these initial community workshops were (1) access to sanitation for the thousands of people with no toilet, and (2) agricultural support to increase national production and reduce food prices. Ecological Sanitation (EcoSan) emerged as a low-cost, locally appropriate solution to both of these problems since waste is used to produce a renewable supply of compost critical for agriculture and reforestation. In this way, a public health problem is transformed into a valuable resource. Further validating this approach was an EcoSan Market Assessment that SOIL completed in 2011 which found that farmers indicate a strong demand for soil amendments, including EcoSan compost, and that the potential revenue of compost sales could significantly offset the costs of providing sustainable sanitation services in Haiti.  In order to set the course for long-term positive change, SOIL collaborates closely with a wide variety of stakeholder groups and advertises program findings and EcoSan design blueprints widely. SOIL’s work would not have achieved the impact it has to date if it weren’t for the close collaboration and support of the following stakeholder groups: (a) Community groups: Before working in any new community, SOIL reaches out to local famers associations, IDP camp committees (informal ruling bodies of the camps for internally displaced persons), and community-based organizations (CBOs).  (b) Public sector: SOIL works closely with the Government of Haiti, relevant ministries, and local authorities in order to ensure that activities complement existing programs, meet priority needs, and fit into long-term planning objectives. Given that the majority of SOIL’s work is in the sanitation sector, SOIL closest working relationship is with the sanitation authority, DINEPA (Direction Nationale de l'Eau Potable et de l'Assainissement). SOIL was the founding member of the DINEPA-hosted EcoSan working group tasked with writing and implementing national standards for EcoSan. (c) Non-governmental organizations (NGOs): Over the years SOIL has developed many partnerships and consultancies with NGOs in order to support the responsible spread of sustainable sanitation technologies around Haiti. Key collaborators to date include Oxfam Great Britain, Concern Worldwide, Red Cross, UNICEF, UNCCD (the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification) and many others. Since publishing the SOIL Guide to EcoSan in 2001, over 800 people from more than 50 countries have downloaded it and more than 1,000 people have participated in SOIL educational activities. (d) Businesses: SOIL recently negotiated a large sale of SOIL’s EcoSan compost to Heineken/Brana, the largest beverage manufacturer in Haiti. The compost will be distributed to farmers to increase their yields and thereby increase the percentage of Brana beverage inputs able to be sourced locally. SOIL is also working with local sanitation-sector businesses and business-to-business providers to reduce SOIL’s costs for providing sustainable sanitation services in Haiti and to support the creation of permanent jobs and diversified income sources. 

Climate hazard of concern: 
Changing temperatures and weather patterns
How does your solution reduce the exposure of and buffer/protect the ecosystem affected?: 

By increasing the viability of reforestation initiatives and improving the absorptive capacity of topsoil, EcoSan techniques help reduce the risk of future flash floods and mudslides, thereby protecting the ecosystem and population from future extreme weather events. Additionally the provision of sanitation services reduces pathogen loading in the environment so that extreme weather events do not result in increased water contamination and waterborne disease. 

How does your solution reduce the sensitivity of the ecosystem affected?: 

SOIL’s EcoSan methods reduce the sensitivity of the ecosystem in the following ways:  (a) The creation of topsoil in the form of compost increases agricultural income and production. This reduces vulnerability to malnutrition, improves food security by decreasing dependence on foreign imports, and promotes carbon storage. (b) EcoSan reduces the contamination of aquatic systems and protects freshwater resources through the provision of sanitation, which reduces waterborne disease, decreases morbidity, and improves human health.  (c) Local compost production rebuilds the soil quality of Haiti’s eroded mountainsides and improves the success rate of reforestation initiatives. This aids in disaster risk reduction, carbon sequestration, and improved livelihood opportunities from sustainable agroforestry. 

How has your solution increased the capacity of the ecosystem to adapt to potential climate changes?: 

SOIL’s compost increases the capacity of the human and ecological systems to adapt to climate hazards in the following ways:  (a) Enhances microbial biodiversity in soil which increases resiliency to pollutants and extreme shifts in soil moisture and also increases the ability of soils to mobilize nutrients essential for plant growth. (b) Increases nutrient production and broadens the range of crops that can be grown. This reduces farmer dependence on a small number of crops and allows for increased food storage to prepare for weather related shortfalls. (c) Improves soil permeability and water retention capacity, thereby reducing risk of damage from drought and intense rain.  (d) Improves reforestation success rates through improved seedling health and restoration of degraded soil. Increasing the buffering effects of forests is crucial to support livelihoods from agroforestry, and to reduce flooding, mudslides, and temperature increases resulting from desertification.

Can this solution be replicated elsewhere?: 

Over the past few years, sanitation engineers have begun to shift their focus away from the goal of waste disposal towards an objective of waste valorization through nutrient capture and reuse. This paradigm shift in the field of sanitation has the potential to dramatically increase access to affordable sanitation services for the 2.5 billion around the world who currently lack improved sanitation (UNICEF 2013), to improve the health of aquatic ecosystems currently being polluted with nutrients from human waste, and to restore soil nutrients thereby increasing soil carbon sequestration and offsetting the negative impact of soil erosion. SOIL is among the first and most successful organizations to put this new sanitation objective to the test in a developing country. SOIL’s EcoSan program is specifically designed to allow countries with extreme vulnerability to climate change and little or no existing sanitation infrastructure to affordably scale up sanitation services to reach a larger percentage of the population with safe and effective waste treatment services and to improve the supply of affordable, locally-produced soil amendments that decrease vulnerability to climate hazards. In order to encourage continued innovation and international replication, SOIL carefully documents project outcomes and shares information on lessons learned and successes through a popular social marketing program. 

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