Since its founding in 2007, SOIL has been working to provide regenerative and life-saving sanitation services to meet the vastly unmet need for improved sanitation in Haiti, particularly in urban and peri-urban areas. SOIL’s flagship household service, EkoLakay, was first piloted in Cap-Haitien in 2014, and since this time, has expanded to reach over 2,200 households, providing more than 13,000 people in urban Haiti with safely managed sanitation. Each and every household that joins our service is a milestone for us; and represents one more family that no longer has to use an unsafe method of managing their household hygiene. With this in mind, we are excited to share a new time-lapse map (pictured above) developed by our research team that illustrates SOIL’s household service growth from 2014 through 2022.
SOIL’s research team has been working with geo-spatial mapping technology to develop new tools for reaching vulnerable customers. Part of this work has been to develop a time-lapse map that visually shows our geographical focus areas with year over year growth. The team has further used this technology to identify priority areas within our geographic scope that could be particularly vulnerable to the spread of waterborne disease, like the most recent cholera outbreak that began in October of 2022. This enabled our operations team to prioritize expansion in these areas, particularly in the neighborhoods of Fosen Michel, Petitans and Avyasyon, to rapidly add nearly 300 new households to our service in just two months.
The map also tells a story of the ever-changing and often unstable and devastating reality that Haitian families face each day. The 2020 time-lapse of the map clearly shows a reduction in coverage in the Shada II neighborhood, the community where SOIL first launched our work and a large informal settlement of Cap-Haitien, as a result of the complete destruction of that neighborhood when it was abruptly cleared for development.
Despite country-wide insecurity and fuel shortages over the past couple of years, this visual illustration helps to share SOIL’s incredible progress in expanding our service, when many other services have remained at a stand-still. The SOIL team continues to work hard to ensure that an even greater proportion of Cap-Haitien’s population has access to safe and dignified sanitation – a basic human right. We are excited to be able to use our geospatial mapping tools as we work to densify existing service zones, advocate for customer retention and, as conditions allow, strategically add new zones to our service plan.
For the past many weeks, Haiti has been experiencing a new period of “peyi lòk,” or “country lockdown.” Thousands of Haitians have taken to the streets to protest the political, economic and social instability, and soaring fuel prices. Roadblocks and unrest, combined with ongoing insecurity and armed gangs blocking key transport pathways, have led to severe fuel shortages and a near total communications blackout in many parts of the country.
These challenges have forced many critical institutions in Haiti to suspend operations in recent days including hospitals and at least one major distributor of potable water, due to lack of fuel supplies to maintain operations. SOIL is continuing to navigate these challenges with a robust emergency response plan, an incredibly dedicated team of staff and the steadfast support of our partners and the local community. Our essential EkoLakay sanitation service and waste treatment continues to remain operational, providing critical support to an increasingly vulnerable population.
The SOIL team currently has 63 staff members in Cap Haitien and 2 in Port au Prince. Our Haitian staff are all safe and continue, against all odds, to provide weekly sanitation service to over 2000 households subscribed to the EkoLakay service. We have been operating under emergency protocols for just over 6 weeks; our activities are focused on only essential services to existing customers while ensuring the safety of our staff.
SOIL is deeply concerned about the impact of this crisis on the people of Haiti, particularly those who lack financial resources and who are facing ever increasing food and water insecurity. News of a resurgence of cholera has deepened our commitment to the country we love and we are open to collaborating with all actors concerned. We remain unwavering in our commitment to provide our EkoLakay customers access to our essential sanitation service and we will continue to do whatever it takes to remain a constant for the people of Haiti during this extraordinarily difficult time.
At SOIL, our strategic objectives are informed by careful research and data. We are also committed to understanding the human rights implications of the work we do. We are pleased to share a recent publication, in partnership with researchers at Oregon State University and the University of Oregon, and published in H2Open Journal, that explores the potential for container-based sanitation (CBS) as a component of Citywide Inclusive Sanitation (CWIS) in densely populated, low-resource environments to safely meet sanitation needs and integrate protective mechanisms for sanitation systems and workers.
Health, sanitation, and livelihoods are interrelated human rights and essential components of community wellbeing. In Haiti, 19% of urban households lack improved sanitation access and the urban latrines that do exist need to be excavated manually and without regulatory protections. Unregulated waste removal and disposal is not only a threat to community health and safe drinking water, it also creates a stigmatized class of sanitation workers, the bayakou – independent manual latrine excavators who are often subject to public abuse. The bayakou perform their work submerged in human excreta and chemical solvents and without equipment to protect them against exposure, disease, or injury. These conditions violate the right of these individuals to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment and undermine the right to safe working conditions protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The study, “Container-based sanitation in urban Haiti: how can it improve human rights as a component of citywide inclusive sanitation?,” addresses two main research questions:
The study uses a mixed methodology approach, deriving qualitative and quantitative data from 633 interviews with active and former users of SOIL’s EkoLakay household CBS service in Cap Haïtien and EkoLakay subscriber records. A profile of the user base was created, including household demographics, payment patterns, and sanitation access before and after (for former customers) subscribing to the service. Secondary data was also compiled and analyzed to determine the impacts of widespread CBS expansion in northern Haiti as compared to current emptying and dumping practices.
A few key findings:
While political systems in Haiti and elsewhere lack the enforcement resources to protect independent workers like the bayakou, CBS services provide a structure compatible with safety monitoring and worker protection and therefore lead to higher quality livelihoods for employees. SOIL does not currently employ bayakou, but the expansion of CBS services would likely increase the overlap and potential to transition former bayakou into new, safer sanitation jobs.
The study provides insight into the potential for CBS to be used as a tool for achieving multiple sustainable development goals in other international communities that share similar challenges and opportunities to those observed in northern Haiti. CBS has the potential to strengthen sanitation systems, extending the human right of safe sanitation to the most vulnerable households while protecting the health and dignity of sanitation professionals like the bayakou.
You can read the full paper here.
SOIL is working hard to transform the global sanitation crisis, and we know that it is going to take innovative solutions to provide safe and dignified sanitation options to those that are without. Throughout the years we have been working in Haiti, SOIL has demonstrated the ability to innovate and refine our model to meet the needs of vulnerable communities, while facing political, social, and environmental instability. This year alone, we’ve piloted multiple improvements to operational efficiency to optimize our service and increase customer satisfaction. One of our most successful innovations to date involves utilizing digital technology tools to increase the efficiency of our household toilet service, EkoLakay.
SOIL’s digital innovations were featured in a recent blog post by GSMA, a global organization unifying the mobile ecosystem to deliver innovation for positive business environments and societal change. The blog explores the role of digital solutions in ensuring that container-based sanitation models, like SOIL’s, remain commercially viable.
SOIL began using TaroWork’s digital tools in 2016, to collect payments, manage customer accounts, conduct research, and test marketing strategies. Since then, we’ve been using the data collected to optimize our logistics and make refinements to EkoLakay, like rolling out a mobile payment collection service. During that time, we were also working with DataKind to develop software that would optimize collection route efficiency to allow for future expansion. Since using the DataKind software, along with the TaroWorks app we’ve been able to reduce collection time and lower transportation costs.
As mentioned in the article, mobile technology can also facilitate and improve revenue collection, to reduce the burden on both clients and the service and increase efficiency. In countries such as Haiti, where mobile payments are less widespread, this can be difficult to achieve and often requires specific communication campaigns. SOIL implemented some of the first mobile payment tools for basic service and has ultimately been successful in achieving an over 80% adoption rate.
While adopting a new technology in a context with little precedent can be challenging, SOIL was pleased with the uptake and the ability for technology to lower the barrier for customers’ ease of payment. Having a system that can collect and manage customer contact information, household location, waste collection details, toilet repairs, bill payment, and other data in one central place has been a crucial step in refining our EkoLakay household toilet service. Using digital tools is necessary for scaling the service as we continue to reach more vulnerable households in Haiti.
We are thankful to GSMA for highlighting our work, and the work of other CBS providers, as we continue to promote innovative, inclusive and sustainable solutions for the global sanitation crisis! Read the full article on GSMA here.
SOIL launched the first container-based toilet in 2006 in Haiti, and since then a number of organizations around the world have launched their own container-based toilet services to address the lack of access to improved sanitation and meet the needs of vulnerable populations.
What is container-based sanitation?
Container-based sanitation (CBS) utilizes standalone toilets that store waste in sealable, removable containers. SOIL’s service provides household toilets, with weekly door-to-door waste collection service. The full containers are replaced with empty ones and the collected containers are then transported to our waste treatment facility for safe treatment and transformation into compost.
When we began our work in Haiti fifteen years ago, we were committed to designing a sanitation solution that was sustainable, scalable and fit the local context. Haiti’s lack of waste treatment infrastructure, combined with an enormous need to find a solution that could serve densely populated, informal, and flood-prone communities meant that traditional waste treatment options like pit latrines and septic systems are often unsuitable and environmentally hazardous. SOIL’s EkoLakay toilets further meet the need of impoverished households through affordable service, as well as households that do not have access to a water source (for septic systems) or municipal-level sanitation infrastructure, which is non-existent in Haiti.
Globally, both individuals and government entities can be reluctant or unable to invest in costly sanitation infrastructure in informal urban settlements with contested land tenure, but CBS toilets require no such up-front investments, typically only a monthly rental service fee. In addition, many of these communities exist on land that is undesirable for formal development, in large part because it is prone to flooding. CBS toilets have been intentionally designed for these environments, to mitigate the potential contamination risk during high-flood events through sealable containers.
Finally, container- based sanitation services offer an opportunity to establish sanitation infrastructure by using a market-based approach to foster a model for private business replication and job creation.
Reaching more people with safe sanitation
As the population of urban slums around the world continues to grow, so does the risk of public health catastrophes associated with poor sanitation. CBS can play a significant role in communities like those we serve in Haiti, that do not have access to conventional household toilets or sewage systems.
In 2013 SOIL helped co-found the Container-Based Sanitation Alliance (CBSA), a coalition of service providers around the world working together to extend our collective impact – getting more toilets to more families through knowledge-sharing, partnerships, research, and other collaborative initiatives. It is through these partnerships and the sharing of information and knowledge that we hope to reach more communities around the globe. SOIL is currently providing over 8,700 people in Haiti with access to safe sanitation through our EkoLakay container-based sanitation (CBS) service. CBS services like SOIL’s are critical in the struggle to expand citywide sanitation, achieve SDG6, and find solutions to the sanitation crisis so that people may live life to the fullest potential.
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