Step by step in Haiti

Making progress against the major problems of some communities can be complicated, so Engineers Without Borders creates long-term plans for each project, tackling obstacles one at a time.

In the Shada neighborhood of Cap-Haitien, Haiti, residents cope with extremely limited resources, and live without sanitation or waste collection services. Extensive deforestation on the island has also left the people with little wood to use as cooking fuel. Students in the University of Minnesota’s EWB chapter are developing a plan to help address all of these issues through a multi-step project over the course of several years.

The first step will be to design indoor sanitation systems—clean toilets that won’t rely on running water. These “dry composting” toilets can keep people from getting sick from contact with waste, and they will provide fertilizer for farms.

The next part of the plan is to develop machines that can recycle some of the plastic trash covering Shada. The recycled plastic could then be used to make the dry composting toilets, as well as sandals and sporting equipment.

Finally, students working in Shada will help the residents set up “biogas digesters.” A biogas digester is a system of tanks that can hook up to a dry composting toilet. Waste from the toilets is collected in a large tank, where bacteria break it down into fertilizer sludge and the gas methane. Instead of just venting the smelly, flammable methane into the air, the digester collects it in another tank. This methane can then be used as cooking fuel.

When the Haiti project is complete, the Shada neighborhood should have a system that will deal with waste in a sanitary way, eliminate garbage, and provide cooking fuel. The participating students will have gained unique and invaluable experience, and the facilities can serve as a model for future effective and low-cost development in the country.

With the help of partnering organizations and communities, Engineers Without Borders is applying science and engineering to improve the lives of people around the world. If you have questions about what it takes to become an engineer, working with Engineers Without Borders, or the solutions they’ve helped develop, leave them here for Andrew Sander!

Dry composting toilets similar to this one will provide sanitary fertilizer and gas for cooking food when used with a biogas digester.
Dry composting toilets similar to this one will provide sanitary fertilizer and gas for cooking food when used with a biogas digester.Courtesy AIDG via flickr.com
Engineers Without Borders and the residents of Cap-Haitien want to make the Shada neighborhood a cleaner, healthier place to live.
Engineers Without Borders and the residents of Cap-Haitien want to make the Shada neighborhood a cleaner, healthier place to live.Courtesy Ie Korrigan via flickr.com