Access to safe sanitation is a fundamental human right yet remains a privilege. In the Amazon Rainforest, diseases long eradicated in the global north persist because a critical vector prevails: human contact with feces, either direct or indirect. The most vulnerable population to these “forgotten killers” are children, with one out of every nine dying from diarrheal diseases. Furthermore, growing up with chronic diarrhea can leave cognitive scars as stated by Eppig et al (2010) “a developing human will have difficulty building a brain and fighting off infectious diseases at the same time, as both are very metabolically costly tasks”.
Preventing these diseases is within our grasp. The sanitation gap remains in these communities because the majority of interventions are focusing on a one-size-fits-all solution overlooking that sanitation is deeply anchored in traditional practices and in the particular specificities of their milieu. The biggest challenge is not technological or environmental, it’s cultural.
We are inspired by the Amazon Rainforest’s immense biological and cultural diversity. When biodiversity prevails, there is no such thing as waste, everything becomes a resource in a complex flow of energy and matter. What if one of the deadliest weapons today in this ecosystem, such as human feces, could become a source of renewable and sustainable energy?. Bridging science, engineering, anthropology, philosophy and local knowledge we designed the ‘Ecostomagos’: a sanitation system comprised of an anaerobic bi0-digester that neutralizes pathogens in fecal matter and transforms all input into valuable subproducts, biogas that can be used as renewable energy and biol, a liquid fertilizer that reinforces local economies through sustainable agriculture. Our Ecostomagos are not just an ordinary toilet, they are adapted to accommodate local practices and foster community empowerment through the co-design of a bathroom for schools and the youth. With a complete rainwater recovery system, and an easy access to tap water without contaminating the tank, our project’s real innovation comes from our participatory and community-driven ideation process. We will facilitate socio-ecological synergies by upbringing local knowledge and local resources to ensure a long-lasting solution and appropriation by the community.
Product of our enthusiasm and commitment, Ecostomagos has already secured the support from critical stakeholders. Our team leader Ana Maria has been working with the Palmari Community since December 2015 successfully creating relationships and building trust from most local community leaders. Her work was foundational for our project, as we seek to empower the local community and work alongside them. For a month in October 2022, the community agreed to open their doors and engage with us at the Palmari Natural Reserve. We carried out 22 semi-structured interviews with local community members about their experiences with diarrhea and child mortality. From these interviews we were able to gain a deeper understanding of the local challenges, including the impact of poor sanitation on health, mortality and morbidity, and education. Similarly, many participants expressed their interest for the project and offered their support in the hope it will lower mortality rates in the community.
Our team also engaged with leaders from two adjacent communities to the Palmari Reserve (1. School professor in San Pedro Community in Brazil 2. Health Promoter in San Rita Community in Peru) who also expressed their interest for the project and aspire to see Ecostomagos arrive to their schools as well.
Besides from the community, we have received the support from other stakeholders. The Palmari Natural Reserve has been key in providing moral and financial support through accommodation waivers during visits to the community, transportation costs funding and community access and learning for our team. The Instituto de desenvolvimiento social del valle del Río Javari (Social development institute from Javari river basin) agreed to provide financial assistance for materials transportation and workforce during the construction of the Ecostomagos.
Academia has provided invaluable insights on vectoral diseases and co-creation methodologies. We had engaged in interviews and conversations with Carlos Rodriguez, director of Tropenbos Colombia, with Manuel Rodriguez Susa, adjunct professor of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in Universidad de los Andes, and with Marlene, director of the Calanoa Conservation Initiative in the Amazon. We have also sought support from other organizations working with anaerobic digesters and we officially form part of the Network of Bio-digesters in Latin America Redbiolac.
With such strong support from our partners, Ecostomagos is well-positioned and well-informed to create positive change in the region, making it an attractive investment opportunity for those seeking to make a social impact on the Amazon Rainforest.