Celebrating successful women-led health and chemicals projects in Balkan communities.
Women across the world have played a significant role in leading QSP projects since the inception of the programme in 2006. Among the projects that stand out, was one led by Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF) in the Balkans. WECF is a nonprofit network dedicated to a gender-just and healthy planet. It has been involved with several initiatives including projects funded by the Quick Start Programme Trust fund. This QSP project promoted the use of Ecosan toilets in rural Balkan areas. The aim was to reduce chemicals and contamination of drinking water in Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Macedonia, and Albania. The project successfully raised awareness in rural communities, municipal governments, and national institutions about the safe treatment of drinking water sources, and of the environmental risks posed by the misuse of septic systems.
Ecosan toilets explained
The Ecosan toilet is a low-cost system that is easily constructed with locally sourced materials. It can be up to 70% cheaper to build than conventional systems. Using a decentralized sanitation system, it separates urine from faeces, which is then composted into fertilizer. No water is needed to flush. The benefits of dry Ecosan toilets are clear: providing a hygienic, sustainable solution to the challenges of delivering sanitary toilet services, while turning a potential contaminant into a useful source of compost. In the Balkans, community support for these types of systems has grown. Particularly in rural areas, which often rely solely on septic systems or pit latrines.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Partner organization, Eko Forum Zenican, was initially skeptical about the technology. However, after visiting an established system in Moldova, they learnt how they could implement it in their own country. An Ecosan toilet was built in the small village of Gorica, which proved a remarkable success. The relevant authorities, including the Institute for Public Health accepted it as one of the solutions that could become part of their plans for rural areas.
Locals were unsure if the Ecosan toilet was a viable option. They had doubts about its effectiveness since they had not encountered a similar system before. Fiorela Plani from Albania explained that: “At the beginning, they (locals) were difficult to persuade. They are very convinced of the importance, but they find it difficult to make the first step of building one in their homes.” She said the team experienced some suspicion, for example: “The lack of water in these bathrooms creates, especially in some women, the impression that hygiene is not good enough.” The first Albanian Ecosan toilet was built at a church in the village of Daragjati helped address these doubts. It succeeded in raising understanding of the system, and its benefits to individuals and communities.
In North Macedonia, the toilet was constructed in a Municipality Sopishte, near Skopje. In addition, Grey water filtration systems were used to further reduce pollution and wastage. Grey water is water from hand basins, showers, kitchen sinks and appliances (excluding toilets). After being filtered by the system, it can be used for gardening. Grey water filtration gardens were built in conjunction with the Ecosan toilets to reduce water wastage and support the overall aims of the project. The team also conducting a training session with local authorities and different stakeholders relating to Ecosan and sustainable development. Veljan Golabov, a participant, said he was: “prepared to build an Ecosan toilet both in the yard, and in the farm. This [will allow] my children to have a healthy life meanwhile the chemicals in the soil will be less, and the price of growing organic vegetables will be lower”.
Women and the achievement of Sustainable Development goals
The Sustainable Development Goals outline the will to provide access to safe and affordable drinking water by 2030. Programmes such as the Ecosan toilets that help to prevent contamination of drinking water sources are key to achieving this goal. Unfortunately, there remains a significant disparity of access to clean water between rural and urban dwellers in the Balkans. Rural areas are more likely to lack safe drinking water, or have water contaminated by pollutants from ageing pipes and leaking septic systems.