Many have done it — you’re out, far away from a modern toilet, and yeah, you decide that you’re going to have to go, “ancient school” and urinate right there on a bush. In a modern society, this is not the best option (obviously) but if one uses discretion, it is unlikely to cause much of a stir before or after the, “evacuation complete” voice is heard (yeah, the one from Austin Powers).
Of course, you don’t want to go in the middle of a parking garage as Jerry Seinfeld did in an episode (as did George, both of whom were caught and used the same, “uromisitisis” excuse if my memory serves).
But I digress. What if the bush you were peeing on were a blueberry bush or a few stalks of corn? It might seem rather disgusting to us to think that people would be eating the harvest and that they had been “irrigated” in such a manner. People actually do this and many have no other, or very little, choice.
In fact, a report shows that that is happening on a large scale in many developing countries/regions, with about 200 million farmers in China, India, Vietnam, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America partaking in the “pee party” (yet another reference to a Seinfeld episode; George decides to use Jerry’s bathroom, but doesn’t close the door — Jerry protests, “It’s a pee party!”).
According to the article in National Geographic:
Facing water shortages and escalating fertilizer costs, farmers in developing countries are using raw sewage to irrigate and fertilize nearly 49 million acres (20 million hectares) of cropland, according to a new report—and it may not be a bad thing.
Wow! Really? Yeah, really! But like they said, it may not be a bad thing, because the alternative is hungry (or starving) people, or using what would be drinking water to irrigate crops.
The article continues:
When this water is used for agricultural irrigation, farmers risk absorbing disease-causing bacteria, as do consumers who eat the produce raw and unwashed. Nearly 2.2 million people die each year because of diarrhea-related diseases, including cholera, according to WHO statistics. More than 80 percent of those cases can be attributed to contact with contaminated water and a lack of proper sanitation. But Pay Drechsel, an IWMI environmental scientist, argues that the social and economic benefits of using untreated human waste to grow food outweigh the health risks.
And what’s more:
Agriculture is a water-intensive business, accounting for nearly 70 percent of global fresh water consumption.
So this of course is not without risk, but often the farmers see little or no other option, in fact breaking into sewage pipes to divert the needed waste product for use as fertilizer and irrigation.
With fertilizer prices jumping nearly 50 percent per metric ton over the last year in some places, human waste is an attractive, and often necessary, alternative, Redwood said.
In cases where sewage sludge is used, expensive chemical fertilizer use can be avoided, he said. The sludge contains the same critical nutrients—nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.
While it may sound disgusting to those not in that position, using untreated human waste in this manner is a way of life for many. Still, there may be examples of methods these people could be educated about to reduce the chances of illness spreading because of food-borne bacteria.
There are also low-tech solutions for “treating” human waste. IWMI suggests employing appropriate and time-tested indigenous practices.
The report cites examples in Indonesia, Nepal, and Vietnam. There, farmers store wastewater in ponds to allow solid feces and worm eggs to settle, possibly reducing bacterial content in the residual water.
Composting, in which heat kills much of the bacteria, is another option, according to the report.
What can you do?
For one, stop wasting your food! A recent report (pdf) From the Stockholm International Water Institute states that about one-third of the food that is produced in the United States is thrown away each year. The cost? About $48 billion, wasting about ten trillion gallons of water, used in the production of said food. Let us not forget the wasted efforts and carbon emissions due to farming and transportation, either. Furthermore, half of all food worldwide is wasted, according to the report.
So, you can help put a stop to that waste. Stop buying food that you don’t end up eating. Plan your meals out around what you have on the shelf, to reduce the chances of spoilage, and also include leftovers in your family’s meals. This saves money and helps to reduce the problem here at home, so that potentially, more food could be exported to countries where it is needed (of course, in a manner that does not to undermine the efforts of the farmers in those countries).
Part of the solution also is to help those countries’ people to learn ways to cheaply and effectively treat human waste. Also, methods such as this free refrigeration method, highlighted by Matthew Phillip, could help reduce the amount of food wasted in developing countries. Also, look to continue reading sites such as this blog, or read a Big News Page on The Huffington Post, such as: Green Living.