WECF's map for sustainable school Toilets and establishing Nitrate levels in ground, surface and drinking water
|Countries:||Afghanistan, Armenia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Kazachstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Romania, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekhistan|
|Donors:||Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MinBuza), Development Cooperation, DGIS, The Netherlands; European Commission DG-Environment; Fondation Ensemble, France|
|Partners:||ALGA, ASDP Nau, Association Spektri, CAAW, Earth Forever Foundation, ECotox, Eco World, EuroTeleormann Association, Femei pentru un Viitor Curat (Women for a Clean Future), Fondation Caucasus Environment, Habitat for Humanity Kyrgyzstan, Katakhel, Lore Eco Club, Mama 86, Medium & Sanitas Slobozia, Mehriban, Mountain Club „Jabagly-Manas“, SAFOi Sughd, SEMA, ULGU, Unison, YECT, Young Guards of Nature|
|Issues:||Water & Sanitation|
|Duration:||10/2009 - 10/2010|
What you can see using the ToNi map?
This is an interactive map presenting two projects: on the one hand the locations of the urine diverting dry toilets (UDDT) in schools built by WECF and its partners, and on the other hand the results of our nitrate monitoring activities which show the water quality in the villages. These projects have been carried out together with our local partners in rural areas of Central and Eastern Europe, Caucasus and central Asian countries.
What can you do using the ToNi map?
- See an overview of both issues and get a good insight into our project activities in the area of water nitrate monitoring and sustainable school sanitation
- Select either nitrate monitoring or school toilets if you have specific interests
- Get an overview of the water quality in our partner countries
- Get an overview of the UDDT which have been built in schools in our partner countries
- Select a country or a village if you want to know more about the local water quality or our local UDDT project in the school
More about Nitrates
Why do we monitor Nitrates in water?
Testing levels of nitrates is a cheap and easy way to get an idea of water quality in a given location. WECF uses quick test strips for this.
In rural areas shallow groundwater is often used for human consumption. This water source is very vulnerable to contamination, and often contains high levels of nitrates as a result of mismanagement of wastewater, latrines or septic tanks, animal manure or fertilizers. Therefore nitrate testing can serve as an indicator of man-made water pollution.
As nitrate contamination is often caused by animal or human excreta, water with high levels is highly suspected to be contaminated with bacteria and viruses.
More about nitrates
Nitrate is a natural substance and occurs normally in soils and plants. Animal and human faeces and urine are rich sources of nitrogen compounds, which are converted by micro organisms, like bacteria, into nitrates. Many nitrogen compounds and nitrates are readily soluble in water and easily washed out by precipitation into the soil and groundwater. Plants need nitrate (nitrogen) to grow. Farmers often add nitrate in form of synthetic fertiliser (nitrogen or ammonia or urea) or manure, so the plants will grow faster and better.
The Nitrate levels also give an impression of the filter capacity of the soil layer and the possible relation to human activities. In high levels nitrates affect human health and the environment.
What causes high levels of nitrates to be found in rural water samples?
- Nitrates reach the groundwater, if the covering soil has bad filtering qualities or is already overloaded with nitrates (fertiliser, manure).
- Where a lot of nitrogen compounds and/or nitrate seeps into the ground it is steadily flushed out by any precipitation and trickles into the ground water. This is the case when manure is stored without any prevention measures such as concrete bottomed receptacles or when too much fertilizer or manure is applied on the field.
- In addition higher levels of nitrate can be measured in the ground water after incidents of rainfall as the trickle down through the soil is higher and pollutants are washed into the groundwater.
- If the bottom of pit latrines is too close to the water table, liquids can trickle into the groundwater. The same can happen if the ground water table rises as a result of higher precipitation.
Nitrate has not only some positive effects for plants, but negative ones for humans and some animals. Ruminants such as cows are sensitive to high nitrate levels in their drinking water.
What do we do in the case of high nitrate levels?
Where there are high levels of nitrates we recommend to test the water for microbiological contamination. Microbiological contamination often comes from human activities and causes even higher health risks than nitrate-contaminated water. But often enough microbiological analyses are this not possible for practical and financial reasons. We try to take action to improve the quality of the water and continue to monitor the nitrate levels.
The best way to decrease nitrate levels is to find the source of the contamination and remove it, if possible, or protect the water circle of influx. This can be done by concrete manure pits or closed sanitation systems, such as urine diverting dry toilets. You can find out systematically what to do by making a water safety plan.
Waterborne diseases connected to nitrates
Blue Baby Disease (Methaemoglobinaemia)
Nitrates in the drinking water can aggravate "Blue Baby Disease" as they are converted to nitrites in the body. These subsequently react with haemoglobin in the red blood cells to form methaemoglobin, affecting the blood's ability to carry enough oxygen to the cells of the body. Infants under three months are particularly at risk. The haemoglobin of infants is more susceptible and the condition is made worse by gastrointestinal infection. The intake of tea or other baby food prepared with nitrate-rich water can have the effect that the baby does not get enough oxygen anymore and turns blue. This disease can be lethal or damage the baby’s brain or nervous system. Older people may also be at risk because of decreased gastric acid secretion.
In areas where the natural iodine intake by the inhabitants is low, high nitrate concentrations in drinking water can increase the frequency of thyroid problems.
More about urine diverting dry school toilets
What are the benefits of urine diverting dry school toilets?
School sanitation is an important but often neglected issue for public health. Children are very vulnerable and easily affected by poor hygienic conditions. Related diseases, particularly diarrhoea and parasite infections slow down children’s physical and intellectual development. In a number of countries, evaluations have shown that pupils, especially girls, are dropping out of school due to bad toilet conditions.
In many rural areas of our project countries this is the case: the school toilets are in very poor condition. The latrines are hardly used, unhygienic and a threat to safe water as they are neither a closed system nor connected to a central sewage system. There is not always a centralised water supply but drinking water often comes from simple wells.
Particularly in these cases UDDTs (Urine Diverting Dry Toilets, often called Ecosan) are a hygienic and sustainable option:
They work without water. No connection to a central water supply is needed nor a connection to a sewage system. Urine diverting dry toilets have two outlets and two collection systems: one for urine and one for faeces, in order to keep these excreta fractions separate. When they are stored for a certain time both are free from pathogens and can be used as an organic fertiliser free of charge.
What are the benefits of UDD toilets?
- No pollution of ground or surface water, like conventional latrines can cause
- Offer a higher level of comfort and hygiene even when there is no central sewage system. Unlike latrines, they can be built inside the house or attached to the building
- Produce excellent and safe fertiliser and soil conditioner at no additional cost
- A well maintained UDDT is hygienic and has no bad smell
- Pathogens in the excreta are minimised
Urine Diverting School Toilet in Hayanist, Armenia; Old school latrine in Gozhuli, Ukraine.
Particularly children can easily learn a lot about the water cycle and hygiene using UDDT and being informed about the system. In this way they gain knowledge and confidence and become disseminators of improved hygiene practices, as well as providing an impetus for people to solve sanitation problems directly at the local level.
Learn more about UDDT:
Nitrate quick tests
Quick tests are used for monitoring nitrate levels in water. WECF distributes the tests within its local partner organisations. WECF provides training on how to use the sticks together with easy to fill out tables for the results to facilitate a systematic monitoring. Often this is part of the bigger training on Water Safety Plans involving schools.
Local partner organisations test water sources in their surroundings. Not only drinking water sources are tested but also some rivers or canals. There are several reasons for this: the water sources are closely connected to the surface water as a lot of them are shallow wells. This is important to us, because the testing of different water sources done by school classes or NGOs raises the awareness about the water cycle and about different ways of pollution.
The results are sent to WECF by the partner organisations. Sometimes we receive very detailed information, sometimes they are quite general as the tests were distributed among local partners.
To keep the data anonymous we try to generalise the information where the samples were taken (e.g. private well 1). If you are interested in the background information of specific results, you are welcome to contact us.
We publish all the results as we want to show the extremes, as well: In one village the quality of one water source can be quite good (under 50 mg/l), whereas the other one is really bad (over 100 mg/l). This is why we show each sample and not only the mean (eg. 175 mg/l).
The presented projects are realised with financial support of Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Commission DG Environment and Foundation Ensemble, France.
If you want to support the project, please donate here.
Doris Moeller, doris.moeller (at) wecf.eu
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