A fundamental part of human life, soil is one of the earth’s most important reserves. Indeed, as 95% of the food we eat comes from the ground, soils are the basis of life. Yet all over the planet, the condition of our soil is declining at an alarming rate; so much so that the UN has predicted we may only have 60 years of harvest left. This constitutes a potentially devastating global crisis, as, if we have no soil, we will be left with no food.
You might be wondering why we are talking about soil, instead of sanitation, as the link between them may not, at first, seem apparent. The two fields, are however, very closely linked when talking, as we so often do, about the importance of ecosan. This is because, as a sustainable, ecological sanitation model, ecosan would go a long way towards providing a solution to both the global sanitation crisis and the issue of mass soil degradation.
To comprehend this link, it is important to know what we mean by ecosan. Short for ecological sanitation, ecosan is a sanitation system that supports, instead of violates, the natural cyclic substance flows of nature. It is a closed loop system that connects people to the soil that lies beneath their feet, offering the world an alternative sanitation model whereby these two life cycles can co-operate.
Indeed, ecosan redefines human ‘waste’ as a valuable resource; as a vital resource for life and an integral component of the sanitation system. It is inconceivable that we spend large sums of money and use excessive amounts of water in our attempts to remove what we have deemed ‘waste’ from our environment, when all the while, this waste could be instrumental in creating an ecological and sustainable world.
In the course of a year, the number of nutrients excreted by the average adult is equal to the number the soil needs to produce enough grain to sustain that same adult. Can this really be a coincidence? Or is it part of Mother Nature’s grand plan to provide us with the means to live in a sustainable, holistic way? If so, we have ignored her for far too long.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the loop, the world’s soil is being depleted of nutrients at more than 13% the rate it can be replaced. Modern farming methods are dependent on chemical fertilisers, which destroy critical soil microbes, saturate farmlands, and accelerate the depletion of the land. An excessive amount of fertiliser is currently being used in a bid to cater for the growing global demand for food. Organic farming methods, on the other hand, naturally prevent soil depletion and support its structure, without polluting the air or waterways. Our human ‘waste’ is “rich in phosphorous, potassium and organic matter, which all enhance the condition of the soil.
Sustainability should be at the heart of both modern agriculture and sanitation. In fact, sustainability should be at the heart of global development.
If we do not recognise this, the quality of our soil will continue to deplete, food shortages will be inevitable, many more thousands of people will die from contaminated water, and we will continue to incessantly corrupt life-saving resources. The global population is growing exponentially. If we do not inspire a substantial change, an ever-increasing number of people will be living in an unhealthy, unsustainable world. Recognising the urgency of alternative sanitation systems such as ecosan will enable the vital connection between the human population and our soil to thrive.
| Ecosan | Sanitation | Soil | Sustainability | Closed Loop | Agriculture | Nutrients |
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