‘People-powered poo pump’ could clean up slum life

A new pedal-powered sewage disposal system could help fight diseases such as dysentery, cholera and typhoid, its inventor hopes.

Cambridge University researcher Nate Sharpe is planning to take his People Powered Poo Pump to the slums of the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam, where roughly 80 percent of the four million residents live in slum conditions.

Sharpe has designed a prototype bicycle-powered vacuum pump/tank system which works by putting the end of a hose into a pit latrine – common in slums in Africa, Asia and other parts of the developing world – and cycling in place for a few minutes on a bike stand. This allows the sludge to be sucked into a bucket attached to the back of the bike.

 He hopes the bike could become a viable business proposition for budding entrepreneurs in Dar es Salaam’s slums.

“Many of the world’s most densely-packed and poorest slums have terrible sanitation and sewage problems, which leads to huge amounts of disease and illness – much of it preventable if conditions were improved,” says Sharpe.

“A lot of the issues currently plaguing pit emptying services stem from the sheer volume of sludge that has to be transported. If smaller amounts could be moved more often, it becomes easy to transport – even on the back of a bicycle.”

Sharpe says that the system will cost around $100, making it extremely competitive with existing ‘desludging’ technologies.

He’s now working at MIT in the United States, along with a team from Sanergy, which is developing low cost latrines using a franchise model where waste is collected on a daily basis.

They hope the waste produced can be used in biodigesters for heating and electricity production.

“Few, if any, of the previous solutions take into account the economic, social and geographical constraints found in slum areas. The prevalence of people living on less than $2 a day means they live in tightly packed, unplanned settlements.

 “The pump itself costs less than $100, less than 10 per cent of the next cheapest alternative. Sometimes, solutions lie not in the development of new technology, but in the creation of a new business angle that works within the local community.”