Mónica Barbosa on July 27th, 2015
Por cá o verão não é tão quente como o do Alentejo, mas este ano, vai seco, muito seco!

E também vai instável, ontem íamos dormir ao relento mas desistimos porque veio nevoeiro.

Ainda temos água para regar, mas há quem diga que não chega até ao fim de Agosto.

Entretanto, já comemos imensos kilos de amoras da linda e grande amoreira do florestado quintal, e outros tantos de framboesas.
Estas têm a particularidade de ficarem fantásticas em sorvete. Já acabaram as framboesas e os sorvetes :(
Mas vamos poder comer delas durante o inverno porque temos doces feitos com amoras, framboesas, groselhas, mirtilos e tudo misturado...
Com a seca, as amoras das silvas não estão a medrar, há algumas mas poucas.

Já comemos alperces e pêssegos, estão a chegar as ameixas e os figos, que já vamos comendo aqui e ali.

Deixámos de fazer queijo, por causa do calor e bebemos leite de cabra ao peq almoço e ao lanche.




Andamos a comer das nossas espigas de milho cozidas, barradas com manteiga.






As cabrinhas já estão "grandinhas" e está a chegar a alturas das suas mães emprenharem outra vez.

Entretanto chegou à "quinta" um porco, o Jeremias, que se tem deliciado com as batatas velhas, porque para nós já começámos a apanhar das novas.

Hoje começaram a nascer os pintainhos, já vi 2, faltam nascer 7.



Apanhámos o centeio todo, as favas (7kg) e as ervilhas (15kg) , mas ainda temos tremoço e tremocilha para apanhar.





As alfaces espigaram muito cedo, mas temos muita beterraba.
As courgettes e os pepinos já têm dado mas os pimentos e o tomate só vão começar agora a dar.

O feijão verde não foi tão forte como o ano passado, mas vai haver muito feijão seco para debulhar.

Os cogumelos já deram e já os acabámos. São bons!


 Andamos a apanhar folhas de "quase tudo" para secar e fazer chá, temos cada vez mais variedade.

 E assim vai a "quinta"!

joao pedro goncalves on July 9th, 2015














É com muito gosto que vamos inaugurar a nossa casa do mel com o nosso querido mestre e amigo Harald Hafner!

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Para mais informações e inscrições: 913776136, ou aquintadoalecrim@gmail.com https://www.facebook.com/events/1660443057533455/


Human poo & pee causes more death, malnutrition and economic problems than any other single issue; yet like animal manure, can be a source of nutrients that can build health soils, regenerate landscapes.  This is the first of a few blogs where I'll explore consequences of terrible sanitation, better treatment options some of the radical new approaches to changing habit and practices that work, and some that really don't.

When there's no toilets in a community people "go" in the open, behind bushes, buildings, wherever they can find.  If you visit lots of villages you soon get that whiff of exposed poo, and if you spend a bit of time with that community you get to understand what happens when people are in such close and regular contact with their "wastes", from the high levels of diarrhoea and a host of other water borne diseases they live with (and pay for in money for medicines and visits to distant clinics).





It's clear: dirty, unsafe water is almost always a result of contamination from faeces and sewage.  And this continues to be one of the biggest causes for under-5 mortality, especially where there are no toilets.  This has to be fixed.

This UNICEF poster I saw last week on a wall in Sindh pretty much says
it all.  Surely it's not rocket science, and yet getting people to change
these habits and practices is one of the most challenging I have come across.
In Pakistan alone, it's estimated that around 93,000 people die per year from poor sanitation and related diseases - that's more than all the civilian deaths from earthquakes and floods in the country over the last decade.

I have seen this in countless villages and urban areas across Pakistan but also Liberia and other countries. Globally the numbers are staggering: some 2.5 billion people lack access to proper sanitation; 1 billion still defecate in the open - both of these are estimated to cause almost a million unnecessary deaths a year.

Emerging evidence is also proving that lack of sanitation could be one of the leading drivers of malnutrition globally.  This powerful story in the New York Times explains it better than most, explaining how constant infection in the gut prevents children from absorbing nutrients  - regardless of how much food or money they have access to. This causes chronic stunting whereby the body and the brain fail to reach their optimal potential, a process that can't be reversed; stunted children thus  can't function academically, economically on a par with their peers. The implications this has on Governments in poor countries is staggering: address water, sanitation and hygiene or half your people will be half as productive and smart as they could be.

This gets me thinking about recent trends from donors / banks to promote cash transfers (dubbed "social protection" or social safety nets).  Billions of dollars are spent this way, and there's strong evidence to support that it works in some settings.  But if water and sanitation aren't addressed in parallel... then these underlying drivers of vulnerability will just remain in place.

Other studies have looked at the economic costs of this shitty situation. In Pakistan it is estimated that poor sanitation costs the country some $5.7 billion annually in economic losses; while in India, which has the highest numbers of malnourished children in the world the losses are equal to a dizzying $54 billion - per year!

Thinking back to my time In Liberia, during the peak of conflict in 2003 (managing health agency MERLIN's emergency response), when half a million people fleeing the rebel attack poured over to "our" side of the city, as the country's biggest cholera epidemic in years was killing far more than the bullets and bombs.  We set up a lot of cholera treatment units, water tanks, toilets, and saved many lives, for sure, but had there been adequate treatment in place already, I'm starting to think it could have reduced so much mortality.  Note to self: find out how much of cholera-endemic Liberia remains without adequate sanitation and get writing to the Government!

But it's not just OD, it's also the scourge of untreated sewerage which seeps out of semi-urban and urban communities across Pakistan (and in so much of the world).  This stinky sludge ends up contaminating our fresh water sources, killing off other plant and fish life, creating weird natural imbalances like algae blooms which when they die give off some other toxic liquid waste which is also really harmful, potentially lethal to fish, birds and humans.

So all in all, human waste is equal to untold suffering, disease, pollution and contamination for people and other forms of life.  But - this is only the case if you don't treat it properly, if your systems for treatment isn't designed with full treatment in mind, or if it's only partially complete, which seems to be the case pretty much everywhere in the world I go.

Pit Latrines and treatment options

So... what are the options?  Well first, it helps to understand the basics of the biology at play. Let's take an example of a pit latrine, it will hold the liquid and solids together in an underwater state which means that oxygen can't get in, so it's anaerobic.  A multitude of harmful bacteria live in this state, which also produces loads of methane, and uric acid (from the pee) all of which smell bad.  So if you step into one of these pit latrines you will want to get out as soon as possible.  Really not ideal, but in an emergency, better than nothing when there are thousands of people living in a small area, and open defecation would be really dangerous for public health.

The alternative in this case is a compost toilet, which prevents the waste from becoming anaerobic by adding sawdust, straw, leaves or any dry thing (rich in carbon, crunched up cardboard will do). This absorbs a lot of the liquid and allows for little bits of air (thus oxygen) to get in and around the pile, which thus remains aerobic.  A completely different, thermophyllic process kicks in whereby in heats up, pretty much like a compost heap. These are unique "heat-loving" bacteria which exist in any composting process; over time they reduce these natural processes eliminate the harmful germs and bacteria: they "treat" our wastes, making it safe.  Moreover, it transforms it into a a really rich source of nutrients for plant growth.  One of the best books, brimming with resources to understand all this is the humanure handbook.

In other words: The problem and source of so much disease and suffering has the potential to be a great resource for regenerating a denuded garden, tree planting, and so much positive growth.


Pour flush toilets and sewage treatment    

The other types of toilets are the pour flush ones that most people living in cities or richer countries use every day.  Squat plate or sit-on-top they both hold a bit of water to receive your delivery, then water is added and it disappears, through a U-bend into a septic tank where it sits in that same anaerobic environment discussed above.  Millions of naturally occurring anaerobic tolerant bacteria in the tank consume the solids, changing it over time from solid to less dense and then floating scum, which then rise and leave the tank as more waste arrives.

Now, here's the gross and deeply unsettling part: septic tanks only partially treat this sewage.  It is still highly contaminated and is known to be one of the largest sources of ground-water contamination.  Bacteria, viruses, parasites (including worms and protozoans) are the types of pathogens in sewage waste and run-off from septic tanks.  The bacteria can cause numerous diseases including typhoid, dysentery, gastroenteritis, cholera; the viruses meanwhile include such infamous horrors as polio, hepatitis A, viral gastroenteritis.

Example 1: A latrine + septic tank built by a humanitarian organisation
in a village in Sindh, Pakistan following floods. Good intentions,
but potentially dire consequences as the overflowing septic tank has
created a perfect environment for dangerous bacteria and viruses. 



Here are a few examples... 





















Example 2: raw sewerage running through a semi-urban
area of  Jacobabad, Pakistan.  These channels
are often blocked with garbage and overflow into the street.
Next stop: the nearest irrigation canal.


Example 3. Another overflowing latrine (Punjab)
another aid project, this time a good example
of the algae bloom, causing very hazardous
toxins.  Is this any better than open defecation?


















I have hundreds of examples; the point is that a septic tank alone does not treat the sewerage waste.  Most designs recommend a soak-away pit. This is basically a hole in the ground filled with some gravel where the septic water seeps into, through a perforated pipe, or just straight into the gravelly hole.  And then, into the ground, maybe into the ground-water, we don't really know.  I've heard it said that soil acts as an excellent filter, but there's little research to show what happens when hundreds of households seep their waste-water into the same soil, it eventually builds up, and leads to contamination of ground water.

Built by IDEP in Bali, this constructed wetland is only about
18 months old and is seriously flourishing.
The water at the end of it smelled fresh.
The trees were growing at a phenomenal rate
So, treatment options for septic tank waste-water? I have found nothing better than constructed wetlands that allow plants to absorb the nutrients, to literally transform the harmful pathogens into plant growth.  There are quite a few different ways of doing this, which would (and do) fill entire books, but I have seen some excellent results here, by IDEP in Bali. See picture, left.

These are gravel-filled sealed tanks, into which water-tolerant plants are set. There is no soil, only gravel.  The roots transform the nutrients from the sewage waste (nitrogen, ammonia and urea) into plant growth.  The roots oxygenate the water.

Constructed wetland by IDEP, at
Ulluwatu in Bali. 






















Ecological treatment of wastes can go up to large scale - as shown here.
 Thanks to Florence Cattin for this photo and for so much valuable advice on the theory and practice of waste water gardens. 

There are other wetland system too, like Jay and Clara Abrahams of biologic design, who build "wetland ecosystem treatment or WET systems".  These too are remarkable and I have visited many of their installations in England.  Jay points out these WET systems are not simple horizontal or vertical flow reedbeds; instead the WET systems use soil as the purification medium, not gravel as do conventional reedbed treatment systems.


A small portion of a WET system in the South of England, mid-winter.
from a quiet large institution, this treated
all sewage and grey-water wastes.  
During our visits Jay points out that the bacteria in sewage is relatively vulnerable when it leaves its septic tank and that if you have created a viable ecosystem in an un-lined wetland, studded with hundreds of grasses, bushes and trees, the proliferation of much stronger  bacteria devour these  "new kids on the block".

The waste flows from one pond to the other through the soil banks that separate each.  The extensive root networks and living soils provide a living filtration process.  Fish and ducks can be introduced.  Larger, older systems are like forests, attracting birds and enabling the return of biodiversity and health to the overall environment.  Moreover, these systems promote rapid growth of high value species which can earn the owner serious money. In this case willow is planted which is harvested and sold locally.

Lastly, there's biogas.  Human manure has less potential energy than that of cows, but it is still an organic material and will produce methane. It's such an obvious way to get energy from waste, but I doubt it would perform very well if the sewage weren't combined with other wastes, like sawdust and chopped up food waste, from kitchens or fruit markets.  We installed such a system in our home, described in this blog, but we haven't lived there enough since then to really learn from it.  But there is copious evidence already out there; we are well passed proof of concept.  Check this 2 minute video for one. Crucially, we now know that biogas digesters are very effective at treating harmful pathogens, though not completely, so care should be taken of the slurry emerging as a bi-product.  Again, not a problem if properly designed at the beginning.  

In Conclusion
It's clear that ecological systems can treat our sewage waste if we allow it to: the problem becomes an opportunity - and part of a solution for another problem.  We need to start making these links.

It need not cost much more than we are currently spending, if we adopt the right designs, for which we need more testing, experimentation and research.  Last week I joined a team from IDEP Bali who were teaching local NGOs in Pakistan how to build basic constructed wetlands - so we can start to learn from these results soon.
joao pedro goncalves on May 22nd, 2015

Andrea on May 11th, 2015

 

Hey Mum! We remodelled the rabbit shed for you :)

rabbit shed destroyers

 

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magnus wolfe murray on May 7th, 2015
In this blog I discuss earth-bag construction as an option for shelter recovery in Nepal. I start off with a quick overview of how the humanitarian coordination is going with the relevant links to access this info for those people unfamiliar with the system.  So skip down a bit if you want to get straight to the earthbag issues, links, etc.
An earth bag school under construction in Nepal, before the
earthquake. This one, a school, built by the local community with design and
training help from Edge of Seven, others shown below.
Critical points are: these are extremely earthquake resilient, energy efficient
and require a fraction of the logistics of importing bricks and cement up the damaged roads, etc. 



The incredibly powerful earthquake which struck Nepal on 25th of April this year has killed over 7,500 people and injured at least twice as many.  Latest reports are indicating that over 255,000 houses have been destroyed, with another 215,000 "damaged".  Humanitarian coordination is already up and running and huge amounts of data and information is being placed online and updated regularly. The relevant entry point is here.

The suffering and loss reported by the media and humanitarian agencies has been immense, unbearable for those families worst affected. Save the Children and UNDAC report 

"In Sindhupalchok, the level of damage significantly increases higher up the valley. Families live outside their homes under makeshift shelters of old tents, plastics, bed sheets, corrugated iron, and boards. Observations in villages showed that almost all houses made of stone and mud plaster are completely destroyed"

It reminds me of news, around ten years ago of the earthquake in Kashmir, Pakistan, which was actually slightly less intense than the one in Nepal (7.6 and 7.8 respectively, on the richter scale), but claimed more than 80,000 lives.  At least, thus far, mortality in Nepal has been lower, by a a huge margin.

The main sectors in the UN Flash appeal
including target numbers of beneficiaries. 
The UN, in collaboration with local Government and the NGO community has moved quickly to put together a "flash appeal" which is requesting $415m for immediate funding for only the next 3 months (April to July) for critical areas like shelter, water&sanitation, education, logistics support protection, food security, etc.

So there are lots of areas to deal with and to the extent possible the local Government NGOs (and a whole range of “civil society” actors will be leading the response).  These appeals and the consequent scaling up of UN and international NGOs try, to a large extent, to support these local efforts, rather than overwhelm things with outsiders and foreign stuff.

With over a quarter of a million houses damaged, there's a massive shelter and housing challenge - that has to be addressed ASAP before the winter - indeed before the monsoon rainy season which can start as early as June and go through September.

I’m going to focus on shelter options in this post, because of the mighty damage the shelter cluster has reported. There are a few factors to consider here:

  • People need immediate (emergency) shelter now if they have lost their home and are sleeping out in the open or with friends and family.  
  • For those families who remain in or near their villages reconstruction and recovery starts right away.  The concept of there being phases: emergency shelter, followed by some transitional affair, then “build back safer” durable and “earthquake compliant” shelter is not very close to their reality – or affordable.   
  • There will not be enough money. The UN has already asked for almost half a billion USD – for the first three months alone! (OK most of it for food and cash vouchers), but how much money do you think the donor community has to spare?  (Don’t forget that the latest appeal to support Lebanon is for $2.2 bn, which doesn't include the needs inside Syria, Jordan, Yemen; let alone South Sudan, Ebola recovery and so on).  So: whatever is done has to be extremely good value (read: low cost and robust).  Or chose to support only a small percentage of the total caseload with a full price (all signing all dancing) reconstruction package.
  • News update as of 8th May, the UN says it's only received about 5% of it's $415m appeal (that's around $22m).  This usually happens at the beginning of an appeal, but 5% is really low, so,  as I said, money is going to be tight.
So I’ve had a look at the draft Nepal Shelter Clusterstrategy which basically recommends:

  • Immediate life-saving shelter interventions such as tarpaulins, basic tools and fixings for damaged homes for displaced people, along with the appropriate non-food items. (And the shelter cluster provides a pretty cool info sheet on how to strap down your tarp in the best way possible).
  • Cash for the "most vulnerable" families (which in itself can be challenging to decide as so many have lost their homes and are vulnerable) to address urgent needs.  Actually, I think that cash right now would be really useful and appropriate - assuming shops and markets are around.  Much better than donating a tent or cooking sets, which cost a lot of money plus serious transport costs and hassle.  People know what they need and they know how to get ahold of it, if they have money. However, I've also heard that building materials are really hard to buy right now and to transport to the more isolated areas.  Moreover, cash alone doesn't pay for critical water and sanitation work to be done.  
The shelter cluster strategy goes on to talk about other really relevant issues on supporting local Government with quake resistant building approaches and other points more relevant to the recovery phase.  Worth reading and getting involved with the cluster if you're part of the response. 

So, what are the options now? As we’ve seen the emergency phase is about tents, tarps n’ tools, or cash.  But how well will these really suit the coming monsoon and winter?

One friend wrote to ask about the suitability of bamboo thatch with tarps. These are not bad, certainly could do for the next few months to stay dry, keep the rain out, etc. assuming the roof eaves are long enough to keep the rain off the walls. But the problem is that these kind of shelters aren't going to be very warm in the winter, they just don't have the insulation. But for an emergency solution to get people over the coming monsoon season it is what the majority of aid agencies are doing right now.

I heard from another colleague that it’s really difficult to buy or access materials out in the more remote areas; there’s not a lot of salvageable wood from the rubble and roofing sheets are damaged.

In which case - a really excellent resource - for anyone working with bamboo and tarps is this "reciproboo" system, developed by Shaun Halbert, which uses smart but really simple geometry to greatly reduce the amount of bamboo or sticks needed per shelter.

Locals are saying that it gets cold and wet pretty soon – so insulation and heating are really vital.  So… what to do?

The solution, I believe, is earth-bags.  These are basically 50 kg rice or fertiliser bags that are filled with any dirt you happen to be standing on, and stacked with attention to levels, etc. to make walls.  Door and window frames are inserted as the walls go up.  Ditto openings for a chimney.

Earth bag shelter built in Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake by
Cal Earth Pakistan - see link and reference below. 
Here it gets interesting: the building can be designed to be round, and the roof made from the same materials in a dome structure.  Quite handy where you don’t have enough roofing material or money (or in some cases like in Pakistan, California, Europe or Iran, you like the dome design, it’s an aesthetic advantage).  Oh, and good to mention: these can be some of the most earthquake compliant low cost buildings you can make. The pictures here show lots of good examples. 

Could this work in Nepal? Well it turns out quite a number have already been built there over the years by a few different agencies. I got in touch with some of them and have already heard back from First Step Himalaya, a New Zealand outfit which worked with a local community to build a school.  As you can see from this recent TV news slot, this building survived the earthquake just fine.

First Step replied to me yesterday to say that their local teams are operational now, that they have a new relief fund set up and are doing what they can like so many local groups. The challenge might be taking it to scale: how many people can First Step train to build these kind of structures quickly and properly in the next few months?

There are other groups who know how to do this however, including an old friend from Karachi, Shahid Malik Shahid has set up this really useful site with loads of links.


Earthbag building in Mexico.
Souce: here
It's nice to see that earthbags have been used all over the world, so they can be adapted to the social or cultural factors relevant within your community. Check this one on the right from Mexico, makes for really nice light and angles within.  And it's amazing to think that no "normal" roofing materials were needed at all, like wood, steel, concrete, etc.



Meanwhile, I’d like to know if there are other designs and material choices that would offer such good value for money at this time – when money is so scare and need so enormous.  

Here's some more information about the disaster:

Some of the really useful information managemnet data coming out of the shetler cluster in Khatmandu. This is a poor quality snapshot - go check out their website and links to all their docs here

Another interesting one showing numbers of shelter items distributed so far, by who.
Source: as above (Shelter cluster Nepal)

Focus area of the earthquake and worst-affected districts


A breakdown of requested funds per sector from the UN flash appeal 

And some pictures I took in Kathmandu back in 2013, when a bunch of us went on the renowned "earthquake walk" through town...



Serious structural cracks already seen on this building.  It would be a miracle if it remained standing

lots of bizarre looking tall and thin structures like this
have been built over the last ten years. I don't know
how well they handled the earthquake, as many of the buldings
around them appear really vulnerable.  


Andrea on May 4th, 2015

This is part of a series of posts where we ask one of our visitors to say a few words about their stay. Dominik and Matic wrote this note to the lady who runs our local bar in Unhais o Velho.
 
 
Olá Dona Céu, (Scroll down for English)

Vamos embora amanhã, por isso queriamos agradecer por todos os cafés que você nos serviu, todos os pães e outros presentes que você nos deu, mas principalmente para a boa energia e felicidade que você traz para a aldeia e os seus visitantes.

Com seu sorriso caloroso, você é a mão amiga que as pessoas precisam, bem como a ligação entre os moradores. Esperamos que um dia destes volteremos para o seu cafe para vê-la novamente, e espero que nós falaremos Português para que possamos ter um conversa.

Obrigado por tudo, Dominik & Matic 

Tia Ceu
Hello,

We’re leaving tomorrow, so we want to thank you for all the coffees you’ve made for us, all the bread rolls and other gifts you’ve given us, but mostly for the good energy and happiness you bring to the village and it’s visitors.

With your warm smile, you’re the helping hand that people need, as well as the connection between villagers. We hope that one day we’ll return to the bar to see you again, and hopefully we’ll speak Portuguese so we can have a chat.

Thanks for everything, Dominik & Matic

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magnus wolfe murray on May 3rd, 2015
Wonderful and remarkable how Balinese women prepare each day little blessings, today an ocean cleansing ceremony,  the beach completely filled with local families playing in the powerful surf. While the wave riding addicts among us ride the planetary blessings:)

magnus wolfe murray on May 3rd, 2015