SOIL Haiti – A Circular Economy Model for Urban Sanitation in Vulnerable Communities
by Dr. Sasha Kramer & Ashlie Bermudez
“It’s a modern-day alchemy that is, on a small scale at least, helping Haitians turn something deadly into something valuable.”
Thus wrote journalist and artist Isabel Doucet for The Guardian in a 2013 report on how Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods, better known as SOIL, was meeting the cholera epidemic’s challenge. Since that time, SOIL’s small scale has broadened beyond the immediate earthquake and cholera crises. Its programs offer models in sustainability and community-led development.
The HSA Working Group on the Environment invited SOIL to contribute to its new blog with a presentation of SOIL’s work in northern Haiti. Director Dr. Sasha Kramer graciously accepted our invitation. We thank her and Development and Communications Associate Ashlie Bermudez for writing and contributing this post.
Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) is a Haiti-based non-profit social enterprise that is setting a global example for how to affordably and sustainably provide safely managed sanitation in rapidly growing urban communities. Since 2006, SOIL has been working to provide access to in-home sanitation through its EkoLakay toilet service. Its circular economy approach includes providing in-home toilets, the collection and treatment of wastes, and the transformation of that waste into rich, organic compost. SOIL’s work sits at the intersection of human rights, environmental justice, and economic development, and we are proud of our long-term commitment to Haiti.
SOIL currently provides lifesaving sanitation services to 9,000 people in urban Haiti and produces more than 80+ tons of nutrient-packed compost annually to help rebuild the island nation’s damaged soils. As we work to scale our service, SOIL is on its way to provide 15% of the city of Cap-Haitïen, Haiti, with safe sanitation and produce 800+ metric tons of compost by 2025. This will expand sanitation access from 1,500 households served today to over 8,000 households, reaching an estimated 48,000 people.
SOIL’s full cycle solution, which is currently the only safely managed sanitation service in northern Haiti, is consciously and practically designed to utilize local resources, prevent environmental contamination, and recycle nutrients back into the soil to minimize the footprint of sanitation while restoring local ecosystems. SOIL’s solution is broken down into two connected business models: the EkoLakay household toilet service and the composting waste treatment operation.
Two business models connect for SOIL’s full cycle solution.
SOIL strongly believes in the power of community-led development and encourages our communities to have an active role in the work we do from design iteration to development to implementation. Haitian women and men with the local knowledge and skills needed to implement a solution that works for their community compose 98% of our operational staff.
Building relationships and collaborating with stakeholders at all levels in Haiti are critical to providing services that meet the needs of the population, aligning with national goals and initiatives, and developing a business model that is sustainable. To best align with Haitian government goals, SOIL collaborates at the local and national levels. At the local level, over this past year and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, SOIL has partnered with the mayors of Cap-Haïtien to provide public toilets in the main city market and to support public health measures and communications in Cap-Haïtien through our community networks.
SOIL has also worked closely with Haitian sanitation authority (DINEPA) and its local implementation office (OREPA Nord) to successfully build out a strong relationship to design a sustainable financing partnership that would expand access to SOIL’s services. Additionally, SOIL is actively engaged with other ministries, including the Ministry of Public Health (MSPP), the Ministry of the Environment (MdE), and the Ministry of Agriculture (MARNDR).
Our community-driven holistic sanitation solution is designed (and continues to adapt) to improve public health, quality of life, and the environment—to facilitate the long-term sustainability of in-home sanitation services in Haiti. For SOIL, providing an in-home toilet is only one part of supporting our communities’ essential needs; we’re invested in setting households and communities on a path for long-term quality of life improvement, safety and security, and opportunities for dignified livelihoods.
Research and Replication
Research plays a critical role in SOIL’s efforts to achieve strategic goals and advance knowledge in the sanitation sector. SOIL’s Research team is currently working on a number of ongoing research projects, including small-scale black soldier fly larvae experiments, human-centered design projects, utilizing aeration to make the waste-to-compost process more efficient, and windrow composting. These initiatives are all part of our effort to make our service more efficient, climate-positive, and replicable.
As part of our global efforts to transform the sanitation sector, SOIL is a founding member and active participant in the Container Based Sanitation Alliance (CBSA), which is working to support the development and replication of similar models globally. Our goal with the CBSA is to share the lessons learned from our work in Haiti to help support the provision of safe sanitation in cities around the world as population growth outstrips the ability of infrastructure to meet basic needs. SOIL’s revolutionary CBS solution has time and time again proven resilient to a high-risk environment, representing a significant breakthrough in the urban sanitation field and opening the potential of scaling rapidly in cities lacking sanitation services.
Climate Positive Solutions for Vulnerable Ecosystems
Haiti is ranked third in the world for being most vulnerable to climate risks and climate change. (Global Climate Risk Index 2021) Climate change poses a serious threat to many of Haiti’s industries and the overall livelihoods of its people. Though Haiti’s geographical location and topological features certainly increase the nation’s physical vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, the degree of environmental degradation and environmental vulnerability in Haiti is anything but natural.
Aerial view of rural Haiti
The impacts of climate change and the pressing need to find sustainable solutions to providing access to basic services that make our planet and people more resilient have helped to frame SOIL’s model. SOIL’s sanitation intervention in Haiti provides a myriad of positive externalities including preserving water and energy resources, releasing less greenhouse gas emissions, and sequestering carbon. Furthermore, our organic compost, Konpòs Lakay, produced from safely treated human waste, supports critically needed biodiversity efforts in Haiti, a country that is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. We are deeply invested in Haiti’s future and are committed to improving climate resiliency through sustainable development.