Feliciano dos Santos, 2008 Goldman Environmental Prize Winner, on Ecological Sanitation

Can music change the world? Yes, if you are Feliciano dos Santos, one of the eight winners of the 2008 Goldman Environmental Prize. Santos uses a unique combination of music and appropriate technology to push for public health improvements and advocate for clean water and ecological sanitation in Mozambique. He is the director of Estamos, an NGO that installs latrines and clean water sources, and offers hygiene and HIV/AIDS education. The humanitarian organization promotes low-cost, environmentally-sustainable sanitation which composts human waste into nutrient-rich fertilizers and assists communities with sustainable agriculture and reforestation. A guitarist, Santos has played in the band Massukos since 1994, working with the production company Poo Productions. Many of Mozambique's musicians and artists fled the country after 17 years of civil war and the band was conceived to capture and disseminate the traditional rhythms of Santos' home province of Niassa, which had become nearly extinct during the unrest. Today their lyrics are sung in the three common traditional languages —- Yao, Nyanga, and Makua --and often convey messages related to hygiene and ecological sanitation.

Since 2000, Santos and Estamos have helped thousands of people in hundreds of villages gain access to clean water and ecological sanitation. In Niassa, many villagers lack regular access to clean water and waste management systems, putting the population at high risk of waterborne diseases. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 80 percent of all illness in the world is attributed to unsafe water and sanitation.

The core of Estamos' work is helping communities construct composting toilets, called EcoSan. Usually, a family will use an EcoSan for several months, adding soil and ash after each use. The pit is then buried and left for eight months, and the family builds another pit. After eight months of the decomposition process, which destroys all harmful pathogens, the family can harvest fertilizer from the pit for use in their gardens and fields. According to Estamos, many villages used costly artificial fertilizers on their crops, and often were barely able to feed their families before building their own EcoSan toilets. By using the compost instead of artificial fertilizer, many are able to produce more food than they need and can generate a small income by selling some of their harvest.


TreeHugger (TH): Prior to the implementation of the ecological sanitation project in Niassa, how were communities handling water and waste? How was this contributing to the spread of disease?
Feliciano dos Santos (FDS): Many communities were —- and still are —- simply digging holes as latrines. But these holes can often lead to flies, which spread disease, and contaminated water supplies, which in turn lead to diarrhea and cholera. Cholera then spreads within the house and the community.

TH: How did you hear about the EcoSans methodology?
FDS: I learned about EcoSan from Ned Breslin of WaterAid and Peter Morgan of Zimbabwe. I also attended a university course and visited various projects in China.

TH: I understand that you had polio when you were young. Do you believe this occurred as a result of poor sanitation in your home?
FDS: Yes, I believe I contracted polio as a result of poor sanitation, not necessarily in my own home.

TH: Is sanitation a taboo subject in the communities where you work? How do you get past people's discomfort with talking about human waste?
FDS: It depends on the community. The idea of using human waste as fertilizer is often taboo. Many people do this but don't admit to it. We usually approach the subject by talking about diseases first; we then take some examples of communities that have benefited from the system. We also use theater and music as a way to get our message across.

TH: What do you think are the main challenges of implementing ecological sanitation in Mozambique and other parts of Africa?
FDS: First, politics, although the Mozambican government has accepted the system and is beginning to promote it within the country. Then there's taboo -- people are still reluctant to admit that they use the system. Finally, snobbery -- many people think that this is an option only for poor people.

TH: Would you mind sharing with us the lyrics to one of your songs?
FDS: This is called Tissambe Manja in Portuguese, or Wash Your Hands.

LAVEMOS AS MÃO
PARA CRIANÇAS FICAREM SAUDÁVEIS
PARA O TITIO FICAR SAUDÁVEL
PARA AS MAMAS FICAREM SAUDÁVEL
CAVEMOS LATRINA
PARA SER USADA PELAS CRIANÇAS
PARA SER USADA PELA VISITA
PARA SER USADA PELA TODA FAMILIA

COLOQUEMOS CINZA E TERRA
PARA EVITAR AS MOSCAS
PARA EVITAR CHEIRO
CONSERVEMOS BEM O POÇO
PARA BEBERMOS BOA ÁGUA
PARA USARMOS MUITOS ANOS
PARA TERMOS ACESSO A ÁGUA

WE WASH OUR HANDS
FOR THE CHILDREN TO STAY HEALTHY
FOR THE UNCLES TO STAY HEALTHY
FOR THE MOMS TO STAY HEALTHY
WE DIG LATRINES
FOR THE CHILDREN TO USE
FOR THE VISITOR TO USE
FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY TO USE

WE ADD ASH AND DIRT
TO AVOID FLIES
TO AVOID BAD SMELLS
WE MAINTAIN THE WELL
SO WE MAY DRINK GOOD WATER
SO WE CAN USE IT FOR MANY YEARS
SO WE CAN HAVE ACCESS TO WATER

Read about other 2008 Goldman Environmental Prize winners in our series.

Editor's note: If you haven't heard Feliciano's music, it is awesome awesome awesome. Check it out at Poo Productions.

See also the World Toilet Summit, Tap Project, and Universal Sanitation in Brazil, Hacking a Composting Toilet.

Tags: Africa | Composting Toilets | Music | Toilets

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