Almost 900 million people in the world make their needs in the open air due to the lack of sanitation services, a situation that the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education seeks to alleviate with a "stool laboratory" presented today in Delft, in the east of Holland.
"In this laboratory we can analyze different properties of faecal remains, which are important to understand their characteristics, but above all to train our students," Mexican scientist Carlos López Vázquez told Efe.
The idea is to allow students from different countries to analyze faecal remains and wastewater to determine both the germs that exist in them and the possible "green" uses that can be given to excrement, with the objective that scientists develop solutions adapted to their area, especially in Africa and Asia.
As López Vázquez recalled, culture, religion and traditions also influence the way in which sanitation services are conceived by society and "you can not go with a single solution to all regions, but that is why you have to allow students to analyze, learn the processes and develop their own ideas. "
This associate professor of sanitary engineering has been working for the IHE for nine years and his professional goal, he said, is "to understand the processes behind wastewater, how they are influenced by weather and weather and environmental conditions", after Study how to optimize treatment systems.
Scientists and students will work together in the processing and reuse of human excrement, an initiative supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which seeks a solution to a problem that affects 4.5 billion people who do not have safe access to sanitation, of which 900 million defecate directly outdoors, according to the UN.
"These types of laboratories are essential, understanding what is behind and that these types of problems exist can help us develop not only technologies, but also practices that can minimize the risks associated with public health that this can have," said López Vázquez. .
The remains of feces and sewage that will be used in this laboratory to carry out the investigations will come from portable toilets of festivals, buildings under construction or public toilets on the street, explained scientist Claire Furlong, coordinator of this laboratory, to Efe.
"We give sanitation as a guarantee and we do not realize that it is not something that everybody has, people need it for reasons of hygiene and to avoid infections related to pathogens and diseases," said the health engineer about people who look forced to relieve themselves outdoors and face serious health risks.
Young children, in particular, are exposed to developing potentially deadly diseases such as cholera and typhus.
As an example, the eggs of intestinal worms can survive years in the soil and are in the faeces of people, although it will be difficult to find samples of these worms in Holland, where the wastewater treatment system is efficient.
In this laboratory, scientists will conduct research on three topics: the physical composition of human excrement (what's in it?), The control of pathogens and chemical analysis for possible applications such as biogas, fuel and construction material.
The new center has several rooms with different objectives, from homogenizing and preparing the sludge, determining the different properties, analyzing the presence of pathogens and their types, performing tests with the help of a bioreactor to understand the reason for the rapid degradation of the elements and develop methodologies to inactivate pathogens.
The IHE institute, which hosts these new facilities, was founded in 1957 and works under the umbrella of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
It has 23,000 water experts from more than 190 countries participating in joint investigations in search of a greater number of sanitary facilities and drinking water, especially in areas where sanitation is not yet a priority for governments.