Saturday, October 2, 2010

aftermath of the Haiti earthquake - the full story

Richard Higgins – Eco consultant for the NGO New Directions Foundation goes to help with the sanitation crisis at the international earthquake relief effort in Haiti.

On a cold morning in mid January 2010 Richard received a phone call from an old friend in New York requesting him to go to the Dominican Republic to assist and arrange entry of an international food group intending to go into Haiti to offer vegan food relief to the victims of the massive earthquake that occurred on Januray 12th. There were already 300,000 orphans in this country, before the earthquake and 98% of the country has been deforested.

The most environmentally degraded and poorest country in the western hemisphere, Haiti immediately became a very high risk place where air lift insurance cost more than in Afghanistan.

Richard accepted the proposal with the agreement that once the food group was established, he could work on his long time favourite – sustainable sanitation and food security. Richard had helped form, some fifteen years ago, and is now the lead eco consultant, for the NGO, New Directions foundation, based in London that has large proposals for building sustainable earthquake proof houses out of polyols.

Funds were received from New York and four days were spent kitting out, debriefing and printing T shirts in the UK before flying out to the Dominican Republic. Richard took a long time professional friend and Permaculture specialist with him, Andrew Crayton, aka Gaura. Together they were to research the best method of entering the then, dangerous country where hold up and bribery were common at the border, which was the only way into the country. The airport and dock having been badly smashed by the earthquake. They flew in and set up base in a down town hotel in the Capital, Santo Domingo.

Contact was established with the Chamber of Commerce and Richard and Andrew met with the Director and Treasurer at their headquarters where it was decided that they would escort Richard and his team ‘Food for Life Global’ into the capital of Haiti, to aid the desperate situation. The mother of the treasurer had founded a convent many years previous and that is where Richard and the team head of security, Andrew, were accommodated for a period of three months. Arriving there just three weeks after ‘the worlds largest disaster to happen in one place’ - there was still chaos to be seen everywhere and the stench, in the blazing sun, of rotting corpses that still lay in the thousands of collapsed buildings. If you stayed in Port au Prince for six months and went about your daily aid work you would still not see all the devastation that had occurred.

Thanks to the UN security forces, who themselves lost many men in the giant quake, and the very fast mobilization of the US military, the situation became tolerable considerably quickly. Many more people died in this earthquake than were quoted in the press and it has recently been estimated at 300,000, as many of these buildings were built without planning or building codes and there were no records of the residence.

Richard made his way daily across the city to attend the only centre of normality – The UN log base camp, which was a giant tent city set up adjascent to the airport for the purpose of organizing relief effort to the devastated city. You had to find your way through the maze of flagged tents UNICEF, IOM, OCCHA, WFP, UNDP, FAO… and this was attended by virtually every major charity in the world. Soldiers had arrived from many many countries grouped in their smart uniforms ready to go on food distribution with armed guards and armoured cars. The airport had now re-opened and WFP planes were constantly flying low overhead bringing in supplies. John Travolta had flown his plane in full with emergency supplies. Richard was spotted by a university professor, running around in his army green shorts looking like he was something left over from world war I. He was directed by Dr. Paul Ruddenberg, who later came to his site, to present his environmental solution for waste management, sanitation and food production at any of the WASH cluster meetings that were held regularly… somewhere in this emergency tent city at the UN log base.

Richard was heard speaking to a gathering crowd before one of these meetings had begun, hosting around 50 specialists from the various 1,000 NGO’s that were now descending on Haiti at that time. He was approached by the regional director for water and sanitation, Central America, for CRS (Catholic Relief Services) who’s office offered him a contract the very next week.

The Sainte Marie Convent had agreed to let Richard utilize a south facing garden that had become derelict and was so overgrown that the swarming and desperately sad and hungry refugees had not gained entrance to. It was still a lost paradise of banana trees and spice bushes. People were literally living in anything they could find, some had nothing, kids were standing about crying who had lost parents, children were just ‘dropped off’ at the Convent so young they couldn’t talk to say if it was by their mother or not. People who had lost limbs and had emergency surgery were trying to survive, people of all walks and denominations of life were just there trying to shelter from the rain and cold at night and find enough food and water to drink. It truly was an emotional challenge being there. Most NGO’s sent their aid workers home after three weeks and replaced them with fresh staff.

Richard now had staff and finance to set up a Howard Higgins Thermophilic composting site, which as Higgins claims is the fastest and most sustainable way to render human effluent into a safe and usable fertilizer in the world. This he revealed in his research in his re release of one of Sir Albert Howard’s world classics; that is now called ‘The Lost Science of Organic Cultivation’.

Food for Life Global and their newly flown in manager from the USA had decided to chosen their own site and were now established in the country. Together with the civil defence team and chamber of commerce staff, Richard and Andrew set about the construction of 5 latrines that would be different to the usual long drop toilets (3 meter pits) that had already been dug at this time. They capped off three of these pit latrines that absolutely stank as they were already dangerously in use as just open pits.

3,000 refugees had appeared virtually overnight at the Canope vert site. They had come up from the town centre past the school where there were 500 children dead inside, and it had automatically split itself into three camps, determined by the terrain, where they had set up with some of the millions of donated tents and tarpaulins, plastic sheeting, bits of tin and whatever bedding they had been able to pull from the wreckage of their homes leaving their family members behind that had not escaped in time. Richard found some families sleeping with nothing, on the hillside of Canope vert, with their feet directed to a tree trunk to prevent them sliding down the hill in the night.

The Chamber of Commerce were amazing, the director herself making many trips in and out of the devastated city. Richard was given a vehicle, telephone and some money with which to operate. Everyone was just working flat out to try and bring some normality to the intense atmosphere of disaster. Every morning Richard and Andrew would go onto the rooftop of the Convent for some early morning solace that overlooked the camp and view of the entire city down to the harbour where some thirty ships were moored around the giant Red Cross ship that came and went every week. The derelict garden was cleared and pallets were brought in from the collapsed dock area to make the aerated bases for the open compost heaps that were immediately begun with the new staff selected from the refugee camp. All leaves were swept up daily by the women and bins were ordered and brought in on the food convoys that the director had arranged for the community at the Convent. When the trucks arrived with food the guard would have to beat back the refugees with a big stick. The nuns had set up an emergency clinic and it was going around that they had already the best make shift school in the city. Source separation had begun! The first and most important step in managing a fast turn round sustainable sanitation system. Richard and Andrew were whisked off one day by CRS to visit the largest camp in the city to survey the possibility of doing the same operation there. This camp was run by Sean Penn and consisted of 50,000 people who had swarmed over the entire city golf course to find refuge and a place to lay themselves down at night.

Luckily for the US military, they had moved very fast to get to the top of the hill on the golf course and set up one of their major coordination and security bases in that part of the city. The top fairway had been commandeered for a fleet of military vehicles and the club house a communications centre and weapons store. The security was fantastic and it was like walking into a military camp at a war zone. After this survey Richard was given a military vehicle to take him wherever he wanted to go.

Richard’s site was building momentum now with about seven staff and with his Chamber of Commerce driver he would daily hunt, when venturing out onto the roads that still weren’t blocked, for the large amounts of viable composting mediums that would be found lying about everywhere, to facilitate a suitable carbon nitrogen ratio for a successful thermophilic composting operation.

All the kitchen and cooked food waste from the overrun convent was diverted to the site and a delivery of standard Port au Prince buckets were installed in the latrines that were now complete with dry medium in buckets next to them. This medium was made up of the daily sweepings from the camp and all the fallen leaves at Canope vert. The residents of the camp quickly grasped the new idea of this kind of toilet and used them happily as there was no foul odour as there was found to be all over the city of Port au Prince. Richard adapted a urine separator of a vertically sliced through 5 litre juice bottle wired to the underside of the standard OXFAM squat plate which he had located stacked in their thousands at the UNICEF supply chain compound. All other equipment came through the CRS supply chain.

This meant that the waste from the five latrines could easily and cleanly be collected and deposited into the compost heaps twice daily with no smell, as the urine portion (pathogen free) was contained separately and used for irrigating the heaps before the first turn; to maintain a moisture balance of 50%. The remainder being diluted for use as banana tree fertilizer. (Now Richard’s toilet, marketed in the UK, has a Bio liner in the toilet and is just like removing a hoover bag onto your compost heap).

Each double pallet compost heap was built over a seven day period and then the next one started. No smell or flies were breeding due to the high temperatures generated by the thermophilic system; which renders the effluent pathogen free in a 14 day period.

Each heap was turned at the 14 day period taking a small amount of the predacious fungi from the previous heap to inoculate the new heap, to accelerate the rapid destruction of the human pathogens and the breaking down of all organic waste. Indeed at the time of turning this 14 day old product there was no evidence of the human effluent at all. It had completely disappeared! This is the miracle of thermophilic composting. Each double pallet at the end of the seven day building process contained the waste of 1,200 people! Somewhere! It had actually been broken down that fast and had the nitrogen banked in the newly forming fertilizer. There was no smell of ammonia escaping which would indicate nitrogen loss.

The site was running nicely with the paid managers, coutesy CRS, and Richard decided to advertise the process at the weekly WASH cluster meetings and to hold an open day at his site every Saturday. Andrew having now returned to Santo Domingo to carry out financial work for Food for life Global.

The site was so clean and free from smell, rats and flies that he was able to prepare a pizza feast for the first batch of NGO’s who were lining up to visit the site. A film crew had been bumped into at a gas station and the lunch time appointment and speech fully documented on film (film I available at and was attended by some 35 people who sat and enjoyed the lunch (a rare thing in the face of the enormity of this disaster) before being taken to the waste management site.

At the end of his presentation speech, which is all about what this country needs and doesn’t need, Richard announced that if they all turned round they would see the compost site of New Directions Foundation right behind them. The heaps being only concealed by a covering of UNICEF tarps. Leading specialists from NGO’s were gathering weekly from Sweden, Norway, Germany, the UK and USA, Joe Jenkins (author of the Humanure Handbook) was soon on the scene having been invited by the group SOIL (who have been in Haiti five years) to see something NONE OF THEM HAD EVER SEEN. Also professor Bob Reed, whom Richard had met 12 years before, arrived from WEDEC (Western Engineering Development Committee) of Loughborough University, which advises NGO’s on appropriate technology.

He is held on this film personally stating that the Howard Higgins system of waste management and sanitation was the best to be found anywhere in Port au Prince. He was present for the awarding of certificates of proficiency to Richard’s compost managers, who have since both been awarded jobs, in the face of massive unemployment, with CRS. Bob was brought in by DIFID and UNICEF to do an appraisal of the looming sanitation disaster that was occurring in Haiti at this time and which is, at the time of writing this article, still at critical emergency, level RED.

Richard’s entire EcoSan enclosed system (can be one or two metre cubed) is now available in the UK from £500 as a flat pack and is manufactured at his micro farm in the green belt of north London, which is now advertising training courses through the Permaculture Association’s web site. For more information email: and go to ecological sanitation and Food Security.
To view the 3 films Richard made, you can view them on email for password

Thursday, May 6, 2010

the latest from Haiti

Following the news of the giant Haiti Earthquake on January 13th 2010 I took the opportunity, after complete frustration from all sides and all attempts to inaugurate any type of large scale thermophyllic composting operation for 15 years in the UK, Europe, America and Asia. The last marker of any size was the setting up and opening of the Mayapur composting site in West Bengal and the writing of the title 'The Lost Science of Organic Cultivation'- the most sustainable way to render organic matter into purified earth/fertilizer in 30 days.

The opportunity showed itself when the phone rang, from I thought Australia, where an old friend of mine called to announce that his recently formed Charity 'FOOD FOR LIFE GLOBAL' who were wishing to go into Haiti for a large relief effort. The phone was in fact ringing from New York where he is office now is.

His request was to ask me to head up a research team for entry into Haiti just two weeks after the earth quake. I accepted on the condition that I then work on my environmental programme of fertility making for crop production from the wastes generated from the towns and cities of Haiti. These wastes naturally can include the sanitation waste of the populace.

It took myself and a chosen colleague, Andrew Crayton, 3 days in the UK to preapare, print T shirts for the group and leave for Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.
Two weeks there in a down town hotel saw us ready and properly connected for a safe and secure entry into what was then a dangerous high risk country to enter.

We landed on our feet. We had a police escort over the border with the Chamber of Commerce and by arrangement with them were driven first to the private home of the treasurer of the Chamber and then to the Convent Community known as Sainte Marie, Canope vert, which was founded by his mother many years ago.

Shortly after arriving and passing all the neccessary contacts and connections to Food For Life Global, I proceeded to make contacts myself in the most obvious place to go - The UN Log Base Camp for co ordination of all NGO's arriving in the country.

I was approached by one Doctor Paul Ruddenberg who thought that I looked like I needed some direction and he advised me to try and speak and introduce myself at some of the cluster meetings for various subjects in my field of interest.

After about one and half weeks of attempting this I arrived early at at least 3 meetings and began to speak before they officially began. On the third meeting which was a WASH cluster held outside the UN Log Base camp high up on the hill in a localle known as Petionville, which happened to be fairly near the region I was staying at in Canope vert, Port au Prince, I was approached by a group who asked for my card and invited me to meet them that evening at 7.30 at the Hotel La Reserve.

Two weeks later I found myself sitting in front of a contract in the CRS offices in the Delmar region of Port au Prince.

This contract enabled me to open a fully fledged thermophyllic composting site where I lived, to dispose of the voluminous human waste problem that is threatening the entire city.

The Pilot Project at Canope vert, Port Au Prince is now complete and a full report has been submitted stating the conclusion of its complete success, with video footage, which is shortly to be released on U Tube.

We began the first film of three with a specially prepared lunch which NDF prepared for the invited guests from various NGO's working in Port AU Prince, Haiti. After completing this lunch the guests were informed that they had been sitting right in front of the fresh human waste of 5,000 people!

No one had noticed any odour and they were all amazed that this was the fact.

My speech ensued and that is available as an enclosed document.

The second open day was attended by various NGO's and also a member of the London DFID Ben Harvey and senior lecturer of WEDEC, Loughborough University, Professor Bob Reed, whom I had met 12 years earlier on my fruitless searching for an opening into this type of agricultural solution to waste management problems. Bob reed gave his verbal approval of the 'Howard Higgins' composting system on the video being filmed that day. He said "What you will dig out of here will be far safer than what anyone digs out of anywhere else in Port Au Prince."

Topics covered on this video with Bob were:
The first trial on a Hertfordshire farm in 1995. The complete failure of a certain environmental centre on the west coast of Wales to try to build a successful 'dog waste' composter, and the invitation made by Dr. Claire Turner of Siloe University to introduce the foot & mouth disease virus into the Howard Higgins enclosed composting system in an enclosed laboratory to sample the destruction of this virus by the Howard Higgins Hot Composting system.
And finally the complete success of the worlds first successful dog waste composter trial of the Howard Higgins composting system to render 100 dog wastes a day, entered into the system, into purified earth in 30 days. The results from the scientists at the Waltham Pet Nutrition Centre in leicestershire were that 4 samples taken from the first batch showed that the material was 'chemically equal to earth in 30 days.'

We are now being invited, in Haiti, to write a proposal to offer sustainable solutions for an IDP camp(internally displaced persons) for 5,000,as the need for an ecological solution that does not threaten the valuable water table is badly needed.

updates? - watch this space
Richard Higgins.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Farming for the Future

The understanding of organic agriculture is a must for everyone who wishes to escape these times of shortage and disease.

Humus is the prime constituent of the soil that is manufactured and resides within the top four inches of the soils of the world and thus it is known as Earth’s green carpet.

Artificial, chemical stimulus, ever powerful weed killers and fungicides applied year after year and at the same times, must, and has, inevitably bred evils, the full extent of which are now being seen.

The time will come when yield will depend entirely upon quality, but quality must never under any circumstances depend upon yield. Factory made artificial fertilizers and pesticides are the weak link in the chain of agricultural economics. Humus is the real food of the soil and the crop; it leads to and maintains larger crops and improved quality.

We are living in an age of planning, in other words in a phase of acute contrition for the blunders of the past. Our industries, our trade, and our way of life are based first of exploitation of the earth’s surface and then on the oppression of each other - on banditry pure and simple. The inevitable result is now upon us in the form of obesity, deformity and degenerative diseases and a soil that cannot produce enough or of a quality we need.

The now, unsuccessful bandits are trying to despoil their more successful competitors.
At the root of this vast evil lies the spoliation which has destroyed the moral integrity of generations. While this conflict marches to its inevitable conclusion, it will not be amiss to draw attention to a forgotten factor which may perhaps help to restore peace and harmony to a tortured world. We must in our future planning pay great attention to food and especially local food - the product of the sun, soil, plant and livestock - in other words to the farming and gardening of the world.

The sun provides the energy for running this mechanism, so our power problem has been solved for us. The sole food producing machine is the green leaf, not any factory or unnecessary invasive attempt to modify the genes of inherited varieties. Mankind can increase the efficiency and output of this green carpet at least three fold by

1) the restoration and maintenance of the fertility of the soil on which it rests and
2) by providing varieties of crops that make the most of the suns rays and improved soil conditions.

The former can be achieved by converting into humus the vast stores of vegetable and animal residues that are still largely running to waste on the farms of the world in the form of uncomposted animal manure, weeds and grasses: the latter by modern plant-breeding methods. Once we do this, all will go well.

The roots of plants will have a favourable climate in which to function properly. The yield and quality of the produce will go up by leaps and bounds: The danger of any shortage of food in the world will disappear: the problem of price regulation will automatically be solved. The cost of food, therefore, enters not only into what we ourselves consume, but into everything we enjoy individually or in common. Once food is as abundant as possible, we obviously reduce the cost. The efficiency of Earth’s green carpet is, therefore, a fundamental question. There is no other foundation for these discussions on economics.

Once food is as abundant as Nature intended it will be as cheap as possible to make. The regulation and stabilization of future prices then follows. After that all we have to see to is to prevent anybody or any nation trying to interfere with the free interchange of the direct and indirect products of solar energy from one part of the world to another.

We can check our food production methods by means of Nature’s censors - the disease of crops and livestock. Provided we prepare the soil for its manorial rights by suitable cultivation and subsoiling, and faithfully comply with Nature’s great law of return by seeing to it that all vegetable, animal and human wastes are converted into humus, we shall soon find that many striking things will happen.

The yield and quality will rapidly improve : the crops will be able to resist the onslsaughts of parasites : well being and contentment, as well as the power to vanquish disease will be passed onto livestock who consume them : the varieties of crops cultivated will not run out, but will preserve their power of reproduction for a long time to come.

There appears to be a simple principle which underlies the vast accumulation of disease which now afflicts the world. This principle operates in the soil, the crop, the animals and ourselves. The power of all these four to resist disease appears to be bound up with the circulation of properly synthesized protein in Nature. The proteins are the agency which confer immunity on plant, animal and man. We must, therefore, study the nitrogen cycle between soil and crop, and see to it that the green leaf can build up proteins of the right type.

Then there will be little disease in soil, crop or livestock and the foundations of preventative medicine of tomorrow will be born. Properly synthesized vegetable protein will confer on the animal and then on mankind the power to overcome infection and to reduce disease to what in the future is certain to be its normal insignificance.

We shall then discover that the present vast and expansive fabric of social services has been built on the basis of malnutrition and inefficiency. Their foundations will have to be recast to suit a population in good health. The reformed services will obviously cost much less than they do now. A new system of preventative medicine and of medical training will at the same time arise. The physician of tomorrow will study mankind in relation to his environment, will prevent disease at the source, and will cease to confine himself to the temporary alleviation of the miseries resulting from malnutrition.

Does mankind possess the understanding to grasp the possibilities which this simple truth unfolds? If it does and it has the audacity and the courage to tread the new road, then civilization will take a step forward and the Solar Age will replace this era of rapacity which has already entered its twilight.