by Hesperian staff Jeff Conant
Feliciano dos Santos
Photo credit: John Antonelli
When Hesperian began work on our Community Guide to Environmental Health, we knew basic sanitation – provision of safe toilets, water for washing, and hygiene education – was fundamental. We hoped to promote a long-term environmental approach, so we began studying 'ecological sanitation,' by which we meant, or thought we meant, compost toilets. But were compost toilets promoted and used in developing countries? If they were, would they catch on? And equally important, how would we emphasize the danger of harmful germs in human waste while also promoting the notion that one could turn this waste into fertilizer for food crops?
Research led us first to Mexico. Several small organizations, some funded by the UNDP, were developing and promoting ecological toilets and educational methods to teach about their use in reducing pathogens and increasing crop production. From there we learned of other ecological sanitation work in southern India, Southeast Asia, Central America, and south and central Africa.
Specifically, we learned of Peter Morgan in Zimbabwe, who was conducting experiments to develop the simplest form of ecological sanitation that could be safely implemented. (Ultimately, it's not surprising that this turned out to be little more than a simple shelter covering a hole in the ground, a few handfuls of soil with each use, and when the hole filled up, a tree seedling.) Simultaneously, we learned that these simple eco-san toilets were being successfully promoted by a small NGO called Estamos in northern Mozambique.
In late 2002, following the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa, I spent two weeks with Estamos along with advisors from the UNDP and WaterAid UK, and an intrepid BBC reporter traveling the world to get "the scoop on poop"
In remote Niassa State, I met Feliciano dos Santos, director of Estamos. Not only did he direct a successful NGO doing life-saving work, he was also a guitarist in Massukos, one of Mozambique's hottest pop bands. In the village of Maua, after an exhibition of the villagers' success with eco-san, I danced to Massukos' lively music under one of the village's few shade trees. To hear and download music from Santos’s band Massukos, visit Calabash Music, the world’s first fair trade source for international music. The villagers' enthusiasm for ecological sanitation, coupled with Santos' vibrant way of educating about it, convinced me that indeed, A Community Guide to Environmental Health had to promote this as one successful model of development work.
Over the next few years, Santos and Estamos were instrumental in providing information and field-testing both the toilets we described and the teaching methods. I wrote an article about eco-san in Africa for Dam Nation. And, since Hesperian is privileged to nominate some of the incredible people we meet in our work for the Goldman Environmental Prize, Santos was an obvious choice. His work protecting public health and the environment is innovative, inspirational, and replicable under even the most resource-poor conditions.
Hesperian is deeply pleased to announce that Feliciano dos Santos has been awarded the 2008 Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa, and to welcome him to our Bay Area home for the April 14 award ceremony and an all too short visit.
With Santos winning the Goldman Prize, and with our long-awaited Community Guide to Environmental Health being launched next month, 2008 – the United Nations Year of Sanitation – is a turning out to be a great year for raising awareness of ecological sanitation and global environmental health. Ecological sanitation may not be the most attractive environmental problem to work on, but there is no doubt it is one of the most important.
To help Calabash support Santos’s sanitation work and send free Community Guides to poor communities in Africa, visit Massukos’ page at Tune Your World, a unique new music microfinance platform for artists ignored by the mainstream music industry.