On the blog

Friday, 28 September 2012

Blue ice from the sky, brown poo on the ground

  The prospect of frozen sewage falling out of the sky is not one to gladden the heart.  But recent reports from Long Island, USA, tell of several houses left with gaping holes in their roofs.   Material accidentally jettisoned from aircraft lavatories is thought to be responsible.  This ‘blue ice’, as it is known, is a mixture of human waste and blue disinfectant, frozen at high altitudes. 
  In 2007 a couple in Leicestershire received a similar gift from above and had to keep a lump of the matter in their freezer, for insurance purposes.  Although it was triple wrapped, they felt sure they would be throwing away any frozen food sharing the space.
  Back in Tudor England, before the advent of piped sewage systems,  ‘gong farmers’ worked under cover of darkness to remove human excrement from privies and cesspits.  This was, at least, an advance on medieval days when a shout of ‘gardyloo’ would warn of waste about to be thrown out of upstairs windows. Modern-day gamers can test their skills at catching falling poo here www.bbc.co.uk/cbbc/games/gong-farmer-game
  Our bodily waste matter, it seems, gets everywhere. 
  Many people in the world’s poorest countries have no option but to practice open defecation.  The hygiene issues of having untreated sewage lying around, along with the embarrassing lack of privacy, are immediately obvious. 

Aelech Tomas from Ethiopia      Photo: Tearfund/Will Boase

  Mapping defecation areas can bring home the scale of the problem and stimulate a desire for change in communities without decent sanitation facilities.  They are encouraged to create a simple map, often drawn on the ground, and households mark themselves and any existing latrines using a leaf or stone. Then they can add areas of open defecation, triggering discussion about distance walked, safety, contamination of water supply, the effects of faeces on the ground and how it degrades.  
  Sometimes little flags are used to mark the faeces, and the weight of the solid waste produced weekly, monthly or annually can be calculated.  This aids the debate and gets people interested in constructing toilets.  
  Aeylech Tomas (pictured above), from the village of Kisho, Ethiopia, sums up the need for universal access to latrines.   She is full of fear every time she has to go to the toilet in the open:  I am always afraid that someone might see me. If the boys or men see us they might attack or rape us. I feel sad; this is not a good life. 
  There are some things in this world we are right to be angry about.