In a global first, German-born Peter Arndt from the Clay House Project in Otjiwarongo, Namibia has invented a new dry toilet technology which has the potential to drastically improve the lives of not only Namibians, but millions of people in the world.
One of the few taboo subjects left in the world, the toilet nevertheless sits at the centre of a global crisis in which it is estimated that at least 2,6 billion people’s lives are hugely impacted by a lack of access to proper toilet facilities.
But now, the newly improved locally produced Otji toilet, a dry degradation toilet which separates liquids from solids through a specially designed toilet bowl invented by Arndt, is set to make a real, global difference.
Arndt, the manager of the Clay House Project in Otjiwarongo, and the inventor of the Otji toilet and a new urine-diversion toilet bowl, travelled to Haiti recently to share the technology of the dry sanitation system, a subject he is passionate about and which he believes can not only improve, but save, millions of lives.
Arndt, a mechanic and social worker, has lived and worked at the Clay House Project since 2001. Together with the Clay House Trust, German government funding and constant expert exchange with his colleagues in the EcoSur network, he has focused on assisting the poor in Namibia through low-cost housing and other projects.
On his arrival in Namibia, he noted that Namibia is burdened with a “permanent disaster of poverty and drought”.
He realised that by addressing the scarcity and high cost of water for the poor, the Clay House Project had the potential of changing lives.
It is estimated that 60 per cent of all rural diseases are caused by poor hygiene from waterborne diseases, mainly due to a lack of proper toilet facilities. Moreover, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 751 million people share toilets with other households or only use public facilities. More than 1,1 billion people still defecate in open areas, in rivers or near areas where children play and food is cooked. The WHO reports that in Africa, 115 people die every hour from diseases linked to poor sanitation, poor hygiene and contaminated water.
The World Toilet Organisation (WTO) recently noted that “in future, the flush toilet will become extinct. It makes no sense to flush excreta with precious drinking water …” a statement Arndt wholeheartedly agrees with.
“The flush toilet is outdated. It does not make sense to flush away all that money,” he says.
Although for the middle and upper classes flush toilets might seem the norm, Arndt says that in fact, “worldwide, flush toilets are not the norm. Fifty percent of people do not have it, and will never have it.”
In Europe the dry toilet movement is catching on. Arndt says the perception of dry toilets as smelly pit latrines is rapidly changing.
“Flush toilets are very expensive. We should not look at the ordinary pit latrine as a smelly place. The advanced dry toilet systems have no link to the old pit latrine.”
Arndt developed and produced the Otji toilet, a patented name and product of Namibia, in 2002.
The Otji toilet was a new step in dry sanitation technology, produced from cheap, locally available resources and largely maintenance free. It consists of a dry toilet in a specially designed framework cabin made of locally and cheaply available resources. Two containers are installed underground in a concrete lined cavity. What makes the system unique, and extremely hygienic and efficient, is the ventilation system invented by Arndt, which ensures that the liquid is filtrated into the ground and the solids are dried by a black steel lid that is attached to a ventilation pipe at the back of the above-ground cabin.
The Otji toilet is odourless, hygienic and offers new and affordable hope and Arndt and his colleagues have continuously looked at ways to improve and develop the product.
An Otji toilet saves as much as 90 000 litres of drinking water a year and means extra cash savings for poor households. Currently, the Clay House factory has the capacity to produce around 5 000 toilets a year, in a colourful factory in Orwetoveni, Otjiwarongo.
One issue has plagued the dry sanitation sector, namely the tricky problem of separating the solids from the liquids. The issue of separating the two would further improve the dry toilet system, because dry solids degrade quickly when liquid is immediately separated from it, further improving the hygiene factor of the toilet.
A year and a half ago, Arndt had a flash of insight during his December vacation.
Since then, Arndt has designed the first urine-separating toilet bowl to be used in dry toilet systems globally: the “urine-catching toilet bowl”. Ninety per cent of the fluids that hit the side of the toilet bowl are immediately separated in a “trench” system and filtered into a pipe away from the solids. The rest of the liquids still contained in the solids evaporate rapidly due to the sun-based ventilation system. In addition, these bowls are built of cement, which has done away with the need of making either plastic or ceramic bowls associated with high costs and the need to be imported. They are produced by the Clay House Project at Otjiwarongo.
Arndt’s Otji toilet, including the urine-catching bowl made of cement, is now on its way to Haiti, where Arndt will demonstrate the technology to 20 volunteers who will then be able to introduce and spread this vital invention to struggling Haitans.
The advantages of the Otji toilet with its urine-separating toilet bowl are numerous: It is odourless and extremely hygienic due to the sun-heated ventilation system. It is a user-friendly system and requires no maintenance, as the solids captured beneath the ground are separated from the liquids and can infiltrate the ground directly. The urine is diverted through a pipe into a separate underground area, and because it is separated from the solids it remains odourless and presents no potential ground contamination.
The fact that the improved Otji toilet is now maintenance free is vital, especially in remote, rural areas where access by maintenance teams is difficult, Arndt explained. Because of these unique aspects, Arndt says he is hopeful that “in the next year, it will spread worldwide.”
Source: Jana-Mari Smith, The Namibian / allAfrica.com, 5 July 2010
The Otji-toilet : different designs one system / Clay House Project Otjiwarongo
The Otji-Toilet self builder manual / Clay House Project Otjiwarongo