Thursday, April 28, 2011

The $#&! I Deal With

I know more than I ever wanted to about septage. Since what I wanted to know was more or less “nothing” I have been acutely aware of this insipid, creeping competence for the past several weeks.

But today, I realized with a start that I am doing something that might actually have an impact on the world. Which means, of course, that I have no one to blame but myself. I spent the months after my graduation telling everyone who would listen (too many to knock off) that I wanted to do ANYTHING that would have a tangible impact on the world.

So here I am. Wadding through shit.

And I admit it here in this blog post, for the first time anywhere, including my own head: it's not the least-interesting job in the world.

The sheer volume of vaccines one must receive before coming to the Philippines serves notice of the kind of sanitation problems faced in this part of the world. Hepatitis A, typhoid and cholera (which recently killed 21 people in another part of the country) are all very real concerns.

A great part of the problem can be traced to inappropriate contact between groundwater and wastewater. An average septic tank needs to be desludged (i.e. Emptied) every 5 years or so. With 67% of San Fernando's inhabitants having never desludged their tank (perhaps, like me, having never heard the term “desludged” before), it doesn't take much of a leap to imagine that many of those tanks are overflowing into the groundwater.

In fact, we don't really need to imagine: 58% of groundwater in the Philippines is contaminated with coliform bacteria and 56 of 59 wells sampled in San Fernando are contaminated with the same.

What we're working on now is a mandatory desludging program, which will empty every septic tank in the city on a repeating five year schedule. In order to get there, we've got to deal with a lot of shit, both figurative and literal.

But it's kind of interesting.

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