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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 April, 2003, 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK
Waste not wasted in Ethiopia
By Damian Zane
BBC, Addis Ababa

Ethiopian Almaz Terrefe is on a mission to get people closer to their own urine and faeces.

Basic ecosan toilet
The first stage: Collecting human waste

She believes that human waste products are ideal fertiliser for domestic gardens.

Through her organisation, the Society for Urban Development in East Africa (Sudea), she is trying to persuade people to adopt her system of ecological sanitation (ecosan), which she is convinced is cleaner and more environmentally friendly than the water closet or the pit latrine.

The crucial thing, she says, is that nothing should be thrown away.

"If everybody recycled and used their own urine and faeces as fertiliser, nobody would starve in Ethiopia," she says.

A bold claim indeed, but Almaz practices what she preaches - so she knows that it works, and as she told me everything starts in the toilet.

'Clean' urine

The toilet she showed me looked like a normal toilet but in a box, with two compartments to catch the urine and faeces.

Collecting bottles of urine
Middle stage: Filling bottles of urine

I decided to use the toilet to follow the process.

After I had successfully completed my task, we poured my urine into a jerry can, which when full sits in the garden waiting to be used on what is a very fertile looking vegetable patch.

Almaz has 100 litres of urine lined up in five jerry cans, but denies this is unhygienic.

"Urine is clean. In Korea they let people drink their own urine as medicine. The faeces contains all... the dangerous bacteria so you have to compost it."


A short car journey away is Yeshi's compound, complete with the special toilet and compost heap.

It's cheap fertiliser and I'm able to make money by selling my vegetables

This compound used to be very messy and had no toilet or plants, Almaz told me.

But there is now no turning back, for Yeshi, a mother of five, who has used ecosan for three years.

"We were told at the beginning about how useful it is in keeping the surroundings clean, not spoiling the water and how economical it is.

"And now I have started using the system I can see it works because the place is clean, it's cheap fertiliser and I'm able to make money by selling my vegetables," Yashi said.

Almaz certainly has her converts, but only, it has to be said, 300 in seven years of work. Almaz, however, is quick to say that this is a pilot study and the real thing is yet to come.

And, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so back in Almaz's garden I had to try one of her vegetables fertilised by urine and faeces.

It was very tasty.

Ethiopia hunger worsens
24 Apr 03  |  Africa
Country profile: Ethiopia
26 Apr 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Ethiopia
26 Apr 03  |  Country profiles

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