Pele school opens composting toilet to combat climate change
Thursday, 04 August 2011 08:41
This week the Pele Island Climate Change committee opened the island's first composting toilet, a joint venture by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community-German Agency for International Cooperation Climate Change, the Mele-Mele Maat Sanitation Enterprise Group, Live and Learn Vanuatu, and the people of Pele Island. The new toilet was built at Tangovauwia Primary School, where more than a hundred students will 'help' to make fertiliser for the forestry climate change adaptation project. 
Climate change is already affecting Vanuatu, and can only get worse.  It means sea level rise, more intense cyclones, longer periods of drought and more extreme rainfall events.  Associated with climate change are health issues, agriculture impacts, and even changes to the amount of drinking water available for island communities.  The opening of Pele Island’s first composting toilet will help deal with climate change.

Pele Island lies a few kilometres off the northern coast of Efate, Vanuatu’s main island. There are no rivers, no streams and no creeks on the island.  The only fresh water comes from rain, and that is not enough for everyone's needs.  For over a hundred years, the people of Pele have been digging wells to collect water for washing, bathing and drinking.  Up until a few years ago the underground wells were clean and safe, but many things have changed; forests are being cut and so rain water coming down the mountain and refilling the underground wells is now dirty; climate change is causing sea water to mix with the water in underground wells; and, most seriously, island residents have begun using 'water-seal toilets', which quickly contaminate nearby water sources.  When the 27 wells on Pele Island were recently tested, over half were found to contain traces of human waste.

Something had to be done, and the island climate change committee came up with a solution:  composting toilets.  Composting toilets treat human waste by composting and dehydration.  They use no water, do not have septic systems, cause no environmental damage and produce a valuable compost mix. 

The composting toilet was also the solution to another problem. Over the last year, the Pele Island Forestry Committee has been working hard to reforest hillside areas to prevent soil erosion.  They have also been replanting coastal areas with coastal forest species to fight against sea level rise.  Unfortunately, Pele’s soil is too sandy for forestry,  so the committee has been looking for ways to fertilise their tree seedlings.  Rather than buying harmful chemical fertilisers, the committee decided it needed to find a natural compost fertiliser — the composting toilet.

The Live and Learn team leader, Irene William, said, ‘These toilets are a great way to protect the environment and give an excellent fertiliser.  With climate change, we need to start changing the way we do things, and we can start by building composting toilets.’ The new composting toilet on Pele will produce about 40 kilograms of fertiliser in nine months. 

Building these toilets is easy. The design has been approved by Shefa province, Shefa Health, Live and Learn and US Peace Corps.  The Mele-Mele Maat Sanitation Enterprise Group is now providing expert advice on how to build these toilets. They can be built in the house or as outside structures.  With no smell, no hassle and no septic maintenance required, they are the ideal for islands like Pele.  And they are a practical measure for adapting to climate change.

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