Sunday, June 27, 2010

a little challenge

for all my public healthers, water and sanitationers and anyone else who thinks they've got an answer. read through the scenario below, got any ideas about what should be done? Let me know or just post them below!

Imagine an island. A very long island, miles and miles long, curving around in a C shape, ranging between a few yards to a few hundred feet wide at various points. The highest point on the island as about 2 meters.  On one side of the island is the lagoon, at high tide the water is a foot or two deep, at low tide there is no water, and little plants and creatures begin to grow. The lagoon extends hundreds of meters from the shore on the lagoon side of the island. Almost the entire island is sandy, so very little can grow, and anything and everything seeps into the earth. That's the topography.

This island is in a place steeped in tradition that still has relatively few ex-pats and foreign visitors compared to similar islands in its region. Some houses have electricity. Most collect rainwater for drinking as the water table is high and the quality of well water is debatable. There is very little opportunity, especially for women, on the island, so the amount of financial input available at the household level is low. One would imagine the government has a significant amount of money from revenue from licensing rights to fishing its water, but at first glance very little of it reaches the ground.

So here's the question. Imagine that almost no one on this island, has a toilet, beyond office buildings. Then imagine that no one has latrines either. So where do the people on this island go to the bathroom (98,000 in the country, about 30,000 on this particular island which is relatively densely populated)? They go behind bushes, in their backyards, and they go in the lagoon. Mostly the lagoon. They also catch fish and seafood in the lagoon for eating. So what's the answer? The current situation is a recipe for spread of disease, and if something like cholera ever showed up it would be a disaster.

But installing a sewage system is pretty much out of the question, the money just isn't there. Latrines could work, but each would have to be lined with thick plastic sheeting because of the sandy soil, and then pumped regularly. But there's nowhere to put the raw sewage, no place on the island to dispose of it. Some combination of public health wisdom and water and sanitation engineering know-how must be able to come up with some options! Let me know what you come up with!

P.S. Went swimming in the lagoon before I know all this. Thankfully I was laying on my back looking at the sky and didn't catch anything, knock on wood!
P.P.S. The place described above is Kiribati, fascinating and amazing country and the last stop on my Pacific research trip. Google image Tarawa to see what the island looks like. Home again on Tuesday evening!

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