Health Care in Developing Nations

Healthcare in El Salvador III: Waste Disposal

Plastic bottles strewn on the street, trash fires burning in front of homes, and primitive latrines…El Salvador is pretty much the antithesis of a stereotypically pristine European city. While in the US, we take trash collection for granted–we put our waste into the trash/toilet and it is taken away–in El Salvador waste disposal does not operate as smoothly.

Many residents in rural villages do not have access to trash collection and thus resort to burning their garbage under a pile of leaves. The smoke from burning mounds pollutes the air and the smell is potent. In addition to problems of cigarette smoke and excess dust from dirt streets, the burning of trash has contributed to a high rate of respiratory disease in El Salvador. The burning of garbage made from plastic pollutes the air even more than the typical household refuse. The solution to the problem that one NGO came up with was to have a trash compost area for each house where biodegradable waste could be buried under a layer of dirt and leaves in order to reduce air pollution. The waste would slowly decompose and air pollution—and thus respiratory disease—could be reduced. Paved streets would also reduce pollution from the dust spewed into the air from passing cars and farm animals but this solution is more expensive (although it does have the economic benefit of decreased transportation costs).

Another problem rural El Salvador faces is the disposal of human waste. Since the water level is only 10-15 feet below the ground in the low-lying Bajo Lempa region, allowing residents to defecate into the ground can pollute drinking water, leading to parasitic diseases. One NGO has used raised latrines to solve this problem. The latrines have a concrete box located above ground and below the toilet. Feces fall from the toilet into the chemical lined concrete box in which the chemicals dry the human feces into a solid mass. The feces/chemical mixture can them be removed from the area below the latrine and be used for fertilizer. The cost of one of these raised latrine units is around $600 per unit.