Re-designing the African Rural Built Environment for Sustainability

Two Pals lay solid Foundation for changing the Narrative in Rural Togo


By: Mohammed A. Abu

The African rural built environment is where one still easily finds age-old residential buildings,mosques among others,constructed by using earthen and other forms of local materials. They constitute a somewhat near description of the contemporary day “Green Buildings” concept in their own right.

The amazing durability of centuries-old mosques in Ghana’s northern sector including remnants of an ancient days security defense wall built with local materials to protect an ethnic kingdom from external aggression, has since attracted research interest from most especially, building engineering scientists in the African Sustainable Built Environment experts fraternity.

The Gap

However, an age-long big gap that is also associated with the African Rural Built Environment and which ought to be addressed today, is the conspicuous absence of a purposefully structured water, sewage and lavatory system as part of the rural residential ecosystem.

.Bushes as place of pubic convenience

Since time immemorial bush areas in typical African rural communities, have served and continue to serve the lavatory needs of most rural dwellers with the numerous associated inconveniences.

Changing Socio-Economic Dynamics

Over the last three decades, the upsurge of urbanization and transitioning of some African rural communities to peri-urban status, has come with a considerable loss of arable lands and bushes that use to serve the toilet needs of the people. Thus, the call for re-designing of the African  Built Environment to ensure  sustainability  in our cities must equally be extended to the rural Built Environments as well.

 Two Like-minded Pals take Affirmative Action

It is therefore against this background that the efforts of two gentlemen, one from the US, Doc Reiss and Taouvik Boukari, from the West African nation of Togo as their modest contribution towards stemming the tide, cannot escape the lenses of your favourite, Eco-Enviro News, Africa magazine.

How it all Started 

“Gosh, it has been about ten years now since it all started.  There is a website, “Interpals,” (internet penpals) where I met first met Tao.  It is for people who want to practice language and exchange culture” recounts, Doc Reiss Consultant for Dignity Toilets,Togo,on how he first met Taouvik Aboukari online.

“Back then, Tao was making less than a dollar a day.  Even then I never heard him complain. He was always positive, always upbeat. He showed kindness and compassion in his character by his actions.

“A ship carrying refugees from Liberia went down and all were lost.  Tao and his friends went to the beach and spread flowers and prayers on the water so their souls would know that someone cared.

“There were two families in his village who had no food for their children.  Tao and a friend went out and got day jobs for two days and bought them food.

“One day out of nowhere Tao complained, “I get so tired of going to the bushes.”  I asked what he meant.  He told me his village had no water, no sewer, and no toilets in the houses so people had to go the fields to go to the bathroom.

” I asked why he couldn’t use a latrine.

“The village was prone to flooding and people had gone to the fields for generations”Tao responded..

“I asked about a self-composting toilet.  Tao had never heard of one before.

“We each agreed to do research”Doc Reiss recounts.

“I found a plastic one for $1100 but it would take shipping as well and there was no way I could afford that”Doc Reiss recounts..

Concrete Toilet the Starting Point

Tao located plans that the Togolese government had developed for one made of concrete.  We built that. Then a neighbor asked how they could get a toilet like Tao’s.  Tao’s toilet was way overbuilt; six-inch vent pipes, heavy hinged steel doors on the back, cement roof.  So we trimmed the details a bit to make it easier to build and less expensive.

“I said we needed the neighbor to contribute 20% so they had a sense of ownership and we built #2. Soon we had a third. And when Tao came out of his door one morning around 5 a.m. and found people waiting for him, we started a waiting list for the toilets.  We capped it at 24 families.

“In two years we had brought on three workers and had made eight toilets.  I was calling the project, “Toilets for Togo.”  People would hear the title and giggle at the alliteration.

Dignity Toilet in Rural Togo

How the Toilet got it’s  name, “Dignity”?

“One day I asked Tao what having a toilet had done for his family.  He replied, “It has brought us dignity.”  When I changed the name to “Dignity Toilets for Togo” people took it seriously.

Reaching out to Rotary Club

“By the time we had done eight (8) we had the system down and could duplicate the design consistently.  That is when I approached my Rotary Club and asked them to take on the project.  They agreed” end of (PART ONE)

Dignity Toilet is an innovative design that also takes into account circularity principles.Thus,it is water used efficient and takes care of water scarcity,a  natural limitation of the average African rural settings.In the extreme case rural women and children have to trek for many hours to fetch water for drinking,cooking,washing.That is not all,it also brings compost and urine fertilizer for organic farming among others .Watch out for the Part Two.

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