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Blog Posts (34)

  • How Can Communities Gain Greater Capacity for Self Recovery? Reflections from the UK Shelter Forum

    Re-Alliance participated in the annual UK Shelter Forum, held at Arup on 14th May. Our presentation introduced the Guidelines Project we are currently working on, piloting regenerative approaches to settlement design with partners in the field, and compiling materials from these that can be shared with community members and local practitioners elsewhere and adapted for other contexts. Re-Alliance was almost a lone voice in prioritising regenerative rather than sustainable or climate resilient approaches, or in looking at how we might better support local responders when international help is scarce. There was also scant mention of the excellent Sphere Unpacked guide to Nature Based Solutions, which, alongside ourselves, is geared towards community practitioners. The Shelter Cluster seems well aware of the challenges they are facing, but like much of humanitarian assistance, continues to focus more on giving to and less on working with. Regeneration and Community Involvement in Shelter and Self Recovery Re-Alliance's Mary Mellet shares her reflections below. Following on from my visit to the shelter forum I have been musing on what exactly ‘Regenerative’ shelter can look like in the displacement context. Shelter is the point at which people are separated from their immediate natural surroundings, the point of division between the natural and the human realm. Necessarily so; total exposure to the increasingly harsh elements of extreme heat, heavy rainfall, bitter cold and wind will kill people.The needs for privacy and security are also paramount to give safety in dangerous times. Building shelters requires resources. Even natural resources, such as lime, mud, timber and straw still need to be extracted from the environment; so ending their part in any regenerative cycle, beyond composting down at the end of their use. Usually, they will not produce seed, increase water retention, build soil health or create an abundance of biodiversity within their footprint. Yes, there are mitigation measures, such as reducing the carbon footprint using renewable resources, maximising biodiversity through green roofing, rain water harvesting using gutters and storage tanks. But all these measures are within the sphere of sustainability - minimising impact -  not regeneration. They do not usually add net gains to the natural environment. It is the people within the buildings that can actively engage to improve the environment and become part of a regenerated whole system. It is they who can grow plants, compost wastes and improve soils. And thus the shelter sustains the life of the people who are embedded in a regenerative whole system. Shelter can only be regenerative within a whole-system which creates a home for the regenerative humans who become integrated within the natural, self-sustaining systems of life. Without the whole, there can be no ‘regenerative’ shelter. The below diagram visualises the differences between aid, sustainability and regeneration. So how do we apply these lofty ideals of regenerated communities to the pressurised context of disaster and displacement? Political tensions, lack of funding, degraded unsuitable lands and limited time seem to limit choices and restrict activities to the siloed shelter delivery model, often resulting in imported tents, and distributed tarpaulins with limited lifespans. I was genuinely inspired by the dogged, pragmatic and experienced women working for INGOs in shelter provision who stood to talk about how they balanced these competing needs and who were well aware of the complexities and limitations of the system and the compromises that must be made to keep people alive. The pioneering cross-sectoral work undertaken by Save the Children and fire-safety academics felt like a paradigm shift that transcended the usual siloed boundaries. There is also much work being done at the design level for imported solutions, the academics at the Shelter forum were doing complex work in analysing building performances, organisations were proving that funding more resilient designs were both more sustainable and cost-effective and there was more of an emphasis on using natural materials. However, in many ways some of the academic work felt like using a teacup to bail water on a sinking ship. The teacup is excellently researched, they have consulted on its design, it has been proven to be water-tight, light to ship, easy to use and resilient to chipping, it is even made of natural materials and printed with culturally appropriate decorations. For the few that use the teacups it is a great help in bailing water and is sustaining life while they stay afloat a while longer. But a smaller and smaller proportion of those in need will ever be given teacups and meanwhile the boat is going down. In this age of polycrisis, the available share of funding is decreasing. Self recovery is now by far the largest proportion of shelter provision following displacement and disaster. Perhaps the root question is: “how do we effectively work with communities to enable greater capacity for self recovery?” For this we need to look at where self recovery is working, where community participation is at its most engaged, and also at where it fails. At the next Shelter forum, I would love to hear from social scientists who understand how resilient communities work, community activists who banded together to get the resources their people needed and householders who have built their own shelters following disasters. The plethora of technical solutions could be enhanced by a clearer understanding of how to enable community involvement which leads to good decision making, access to resources and increased self recovery. My question to myself and colleagues at Re-Alliance, is how do we empower communities to make decisions that will best serve them in the long term, to a place within the self-sustaining regenerative systems of life and away from the trappings of modern solutions. As the climate crisis worsens, we all need to transition our ways of thinking and being in the world. How can we work together in this transition in a way that is truly empowering of local decision making?

  • Building a Garden on the Roof - Illustrated Guide from Re-Alliance, GUPAP and Sporos Regeneration Institute

    Dedication The Re-Alliance team would like to share this resource with the following dedication: In solidarity with all the women of Gaza who created roof gardens for themselves, their families, and their communities. We hope for a time of peace and freedom when the seeds that are planted are allowed to flourish. Context This illustrated resource has been produced from the learnings of both desk based research, and action research projects that we piloted in partnership with Re-Alliance Members GUPAP (Gaza Urban & Peri-Urban Agriculture Platform) and Sporos Regeneration Institute as part of our wider Regenerative Camps and Settlements Guidelines Research. Keep an eye on our social media, newsletter and to be notified about other resources. The Guide This guide is aimed at community level organisations and actors, for direct use with communities. The guide is illustration-led, with the aim to reduce the barriers of illiteracy and language. The guide is split into both ‘Building a Garden on the Roof’ and ‘Cultivating on the Roof’ and covers topics such as materials needed, safety considerations, construction guidance, seed saving and organic fertilisers. Download the guide here This guide is currently being translated into a range of languages. If you would like this guide to be made available in a specific language please get in touch at to request this and we will see what we can do.

  • Toilet Solidarity, Compost Toilets for All

    Re-Alliance’s Mary Mellet reviews different designs, including the treebog, urine separators and simple container loos. This article was originally published in Permaculture Magazine's summer issue 116. Above: Winnie Tushabe from YICE Uganda presenting their EcoSan composting toilet There are many things to love about compost toilets; they’re low cost and cycle nutrients back to the earth rather than flushing away as waste. But how do you navigate the different designs and styles? Over the last six months, Re-alliance has helped build different types of composting toilets with refugee communities in Uganda and Kenya. Our aim is not to promote individual technologies, but to enable a choice for the most appropriate design in a given context. Instead of toilet ‘equality’ where the world follows the Western model of polluting and wasteful flushing toilets, we’re advocating for toilet ‘solidarity’, where the Western and majority world transition in tandem to regenerative sanitation solutions. These work with the nutrient cycle to create health and abundance from our waste instead of pollution and harm. Unless you built your own house, you probably didn’t get to choose which type of toilet it had; the majority of houses in the UK come with a flush toilet connected to the sewage network. But we do get a choice in any subsequent toilets, the toilet for the home office down the garden or the second toilet you install to accommodate a growing family. These extra loos could all be compost toilets. Here we look at two designs our partners have built in East Africa and then overview options that you could adopt for your own project – there’s a compost loo to suit most contexts. The Treebog in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya More than 182,000 people live in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, which was formed in 1992. Farming and Health Education, our local partner, is a community-based organisation which uses permaculture design principles to increase resilience by working with people to grow their own fresh food. Pictured right: FHE's Treebog, credit to Marcelin Munga Working with degraded soils and without the money for external fertilisers, growers in Kakuma understand the advantages of healthy soil and so the compost and fertility created by the treebogs are valued. In this pilot, two double treebogs were built and productive trees were planted around the toilets. Because these toilets are for communal use, it is useful that the treebog design does not include urine separation, to ensure little change in behaviour is needed from the toilet users. A carboniferous cover material, such as wood shavings or leaves, is added after using the toilet. The cover material prevents odours and flies, as well as maintaining the required carbon to nitrogen balance for healthy composting. We worked with Jay Abrahams, who invented the treebog, and he explained, “A treebog is a platform mounted toilet seat or squat, in a cubicle, surrounded by closely planted, fast growing and productive trees and shrubs. This arrangement enables the faeces and urine to be deposited on the soil surface in an aerobic chamber underneath the platform where the solids are composted into soil and the liquids soak into the earth below, feeding the root zone of the planted species surrounding the treebog. The trees enhance liquid take-up and composting of the solids and can also produce fruit, nuts and coppiced wood. When full, treebogs are closed and the contents are left to compost, being safely emptied after about a year to 18 months, once the wastes have been fully composted to soil. Depending on the amount of users, some treebogs never need to be emptied and the composted waste just continues to feed the trees. The trees and shrubs also create a habitat for wildlife, increasing the biodiversity of the area.” EcoSan Toilets in Nakivale Uganda In the Nakivale refugee camp in Uganda, refugees are given a small plot of land to build a dwelling and farm food on. Our partner organisation YICE (Youth Initiative for Community Empowerment) is working with families to create kitchen gardens but yields are limited because the soil is poor. Pictured right: YICE Uganda's EcoSan We worked with YICE to build eight urine diverting dry toilets (or ‘ecosan toilets’) for families. By separating the urine and faeces, the volume of composting waste is reduced, extending the capacity of the compost chamber and giving an immediate source of fertiliser in the form of urine, which, when diluted 1:20 with water, is an excellent fertiliser rich in nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Diverting the urine away stops the compost chamber from becoming anaerobic and smelly and the addition of wood ash, after using the toilet, acts as a dehydrating cover material. This design used recycled plastic barrels as containers for the faeces, which ensures no ground pollution. Once nearly full, the barrel is moved aside and replaced with a fresh barrel. With the hot composting achieved inside the barrels, compost can be created in under 12 months in the Ugandan climate. The compost is used to enrich the soil around fruiting trees and bushes. Closed Loop Sanitation ‘Create no waste and produce a yield’ Re-alliance is not alone in advocating for compost toilets as a sanitation solution; Oxfam, Wateraid and Tearfund have also built compost toilets at various scales and the South African government is building them at a national level. However, when these projects are viewed solely as a sanitation solution, the production of compost is often seen as a problem to dispose of rather than a resource and the toilets are not well accepted. By integrating the toilets with existing food growing projects, the outputs are more likely to be valued and used for soil enrichment, increasing food security and biodiversity in tandem with improving sanitation. As YICE director Noah Ssempijja commented recently, “At last we may have found a solution to our poor soil fertility”. However, caution, careful management and observance of national and regional regulations are needed as untreated human excreta can transmit diseases. The myth to resist though, is that water-based systems are more hygienic than composting systems. With colonialism, the West exported the idea of flushing toilets as a clean, safe means of disposing of waste. But this denies the fact that adding human waste to water is a vehicle for pollution and disease if the water is not properly treated. The United Nations’ 2017 World Water Development Report stated, “In all but the most highly developed countries, the vast majority of wastewater is released directly to the environment without adequate treatment, with detrimental impacts on human health, economic productivity, the quality of ambient freshwater resources, and ecosystems.” Unfortunately, the problem continues in the UK, with Surfers Against Sewage stating in their 2022 Water Quality Report that “Over the course of 2020 and 2021, sewage has been dumped into the ocean and rivers around the UK more than 770,000 times”. With proper siting and management, compost toilets are safe, as is the compost they create. Joseph Jenkins writes in his well researched The Humanure Handbook: “As long as they are combining their humanure with a carbonaceous material and letting it compost, thermophilically or not, for at least a year (an additional year of ageing is recommended), they are very unlikely to be creating any health problems.” Advice on the use of compost varies, many types of food have been grown safely from humanure compost, and Jenkins argues for its use on most food crops, but harm caused by mismanagement can also be imagined. As a result, the Centre for Alternative Technology recommends its use only on fruit bushes and trees, which don’t absorb pathogens up their woody trunks, and on ornamental plants. Pictured left: Winnie Tushabe and Jean-Paul from YICE Uganda with compost from their Ecosan Toilets Whichever system you choose, the benefits remain attractive: less expensive, less polluting and a creator of compost and fertiliser. Below is a guide for choosing a compost system, with references you can go to for more information. I do hope you find a loo that suits you, and, if you are considering a second toilet in your household, you might take the dive and go waterless. You’re sure to learn a lot along the way while saving money and water, reducing pollution and feeding plants. Which Composting Toilet is Best for You? For all the solutions listed here you will need an outside space for the compost to be made and/or stored and used, this could be a garden or courtyard. Container-based Compost Toilet inside an Existing Home or Building where Space is Limited This scenario would also include compost toilets inside mobile homes and boats. Here you can create a DIY solution or buy an off the peg unit. Both have limited capacity so are suitable for household scale use, but not larger scale frequent use. Pee, poo and toilet paper are held within a sealed container, such as a plastic bin, and covered with sawdust or other organic cover material. The container contents are emptied into a compost bin or bay, ensuring the top is well covered by organic matter. You can choose to include urine separation which reduces the volume of waste and creates a plant fertiliser; most off-the-peg solutions use urine separation. Several compost bins or bays will be needed to rotate between – one curing the other filling. Advantages: Cheapest and simplest solution to build. Useful in places with limited space. Can create fertile compost and urine fertiliser. Disadvantages: Emptying and management of composting system required. Examples of off-the-peg designs: Loveable Loo, Trobolo, Wee Hooses Compost Toilets. Further Resources Best book: The Humanure Handbook: Shit in a Nutshell, 4th edition, by Joseph C. Jenkins for pdf downloads Best online resources: - How to build a simple compost toilet Best overview of composting system: How to Make Humanure Compost with a Composting Toilet, Happen Films Compost Chamber Systems Here, the composting happens within the toilet structure, so more space is needed for building. The toilets are usually elevated above the compost pile, with composting occurring at ground level. The contents are usually emptied once composting has occurred, after 12-24 months or sometimes just left to rot down. Often designs include a ‘twin chamber’ system, where one chamber is filled while the other is left to compost. Rotated large containers can also be used to receive the wastes and then switched over for composting (as in our Ugandan Ecosan examples). Most designs include urine diversion, with the treebog as a notable exception. Advantages: No handling or transportation of wastes needed. Fertile compost created. Urine fertiliser can be used to improve plant growth. Disadvantages: Compost chamber usually needs to be emptied after 12-24 months (although with infrequent use, emptying is reduced). Toilet seat is elevated so steps or a ramp are needed for access. Further Resources Best book: Lifting the Lid: An Ecological Approach to Toilet Systems by Peter Harper and Louise Halestrap Best online resources: Centre For Alternative Technology, Composting Toilets Best video: Centre for Alternative Technology, Webinar: Compost Toilets, an introduction, by Louise Halestrap This article originally appeared in Permaculture Magazine, Summer issue 116: The magazine is available in print and digitally. Each issue of Permaculture magazine is hand crafted, sharing practical, innovative solutions, money saving ideas and global perspectives from a grassroots movement in over 170 countries. To subscribe from anywhere in the world visit: or call 01730 776 582 (+44 1730 776 582)

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Other Pages (40)

  • Regenerative Camps and Settlements

    Current Project: Regenerative Camps & Settlements Great oaks from little acorns grow: from pilots to system-change. A £191,000 project over 3 years aiming to increase the impact and influence of regenerative solutions to disaster and displacement. Over the next three years, Re-Alliance will be working on our ‘Regenerative Camps and Settlements' project. The project will pilot regenerative interventions within formal and informal camps for refugees and IDPs. The learnings from the projects will inform our wider research into regenerative responses to disaster and displacement and create content for further learning materials and knowledge sharing aimed at promoting grass-roots, community led interventions and influencing mainstream INGO activities. 1 st Funding round May 2022 ​ 41 applications received ​ 8 projects selected ​ In May 2022, we held our first round of funding and selected eight projects from the 41 applications received. A second round of funding is planned for 2023. The local partners selected have begun implementing change-making regenerative programmes to trial innovations which benefit local communities and the natural environment. The projects aim to enhance multiple systems, increasing the health of social, ecological and economic systems together. These projects aim to work in an integrated way to break down the traditional silos between sectors. We will have a second round of funding in 2023 when we intend to fund projects focusing on energy and communication. This round of projects include: 3 Integrated Sanitation Projects (Nakivale Uganda, Lebanon and Kakuma Kenya) Although the concept of dry and compost toilets is now understood and has been adopted in some camp settings, widespread uptake is limited because, in part, the benefits of resource creation are not understood and therefore systems are not maintained and valued. ​ We have partnered with local groups with a focus and understanding of soil health, nutrient cycles and food growing. By integrating various designs of composting toilets with amending soils for plant growth we aim to create projects which thrive at the intersection between WASH and Livelihoods creating multiple benefits to both areas. ​ 3 Urban Agriculture (Cameroon, Gaza and Athens) ​ Urban agriculture increases access to healthy, affordable, fresh food and gives communities a chance to learn about nutrition and growing food. More than this, it gives people who have been uprooted from their homes purposeful, therapeutic activity. By growing and cooking favourite foods, a taste of home can be created in a new place while tiny green spaces enrich the environment and biodiversity of cities. Reducing the amount of food families have to buy increases resilience and reduces the amount of food that needs to be imported into cities at high carbon costs. The projects supported also integrate the use of upcycled and recycled materials and seed saving to reduce inputs and create regenerative cycles. ​ Lime Stabilised Soil construction (Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh) If concrete was a country, it would be the third biggest emitter of CO2 in the world. Lime Stablised soil is a viable alternative to concrete with similar cost, strength and adaptability benefits but with a fraction of the carbon footprint. Following disasters, huge rebuilding programmes often utilise concrete for rapid rebuilding, but lime stabilised soil has been shown to have greater benefits as it allows for the use of on-site materials (soil) and reduces the need for imported materials. It therefore minimises costs, carbon and resource demands and reduces construction traffic by avoiding transport of excavated and imported materials. Lime stabilisation is established practice with a proven history of successful use internationally but cement is still the first choice by many engineers in part because of the knowledge gap of use. ​ Lime Stablised soil could be particularly useful in projects in Cox’s Bazar, because the use of concrete is often prohibited by the authorities for political reasons. Lime could be a viable alternative to concrete without compromising on strength and safety and help the Rohingha communities build durable paths and settlements, 1 Camp Composting (Nakivale: Uganda) ​ Closing the nutrient cycle by converting food waste into compost is a fundamental tool in turning human activity from an extractive to regenerative process. This project works at the intersection between waste management, livelihoods and health. Composting schemes such as this reduce waste management costs, enrich soils to enable healthy food to be grown and increase the health and biodiversity of the soil. Healthy soils sequester more carbon, absorb more water during heavy rainfall and facilitate organic food growing due to increased nutrient content. Anchor 1

  • Meli Bees Network

    < Back Meli Bees Network Brazil The Meli Bees Network was started by a new generation of Amazonian leaders who have witnessed first-hand the rapid destruction of their home in the last decades. Acknowledging the need to strengthen the protection and regeneration in the most endangered part of the Amazon, this non profit organisation was founded in 2020. Operating within the Amazonian "Arc of Deforestation", the Meli Bees network operates predominantly with indigenous communities in primary forest environments as well as with smallholders in previously devastated areas. Meli creates bridges between the traditional communities in the Amazon area, researchers and environmentally engaged groups around the globe to deliver thriving cooperation to achieve a large and effective positive impact on the global climate. Meli supports traditional communities in the development of regenerative practices, connecting native beekeeping with regenerative agriculture, environmental education, and knowledge generation to develop new livelihood opportunities. Storytelling activities are an important part of Meli’s process, and have been hugely successful, this in turn has enabled the success of other activities such as the native beekeeping.

  • Toilet Solidarity - Compost Toilets for All

    < Back Toilet Solidarity - Compost Toilets for All A review, published in the Permaculture Magazine, featuring compost toilet designs and the case for closed loop sanitation. Donate to Re-Alliance Stay updated with our newsletter Download for free: English ​ ​ ​ ​

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