(QCOSTARICA) Due to the lack of septic tanks, sewers and toilets, it is estimated that some 18,000 people in Costa Rica defecate in the open.
That figure includes the homeless, indigenous and immigrants living near the border areas, and migrant workers coming to the country to harvest coffee.
Most these, 63% or 11,364 people – live in urban areas, in extreme poverty, according to a report by the National Water Laboratory, the Costa Rican Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers (Laboratorio Nacional de Aguas, del Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados – AyA).
The report indicates the figure represents 0.4% of the country’s 4.8 million population. Another 71.5% use septic tanks and the rest connected to sanitary sewers, storm drains, latrines and similar mechanisms.
The regions most using septic tanks and “open air” mechanisms are the Brunca and Huetar, the north region of Costa Rica, bordering with Nicaragua.
For its part, the Central Region (Central Valley) is the area with the least use of a septic tank.
“If we compare us with the world, we have low levels of open defecation. Nationally, in 1960, 26% of the population did. We have come a long way, but much remains to be done. I worry that we have fallen asleep,” Darner Mora, director of the Laboratory, told La Nacion.
According to Mora and Eugenio Androvetto, director of Human Environment Protection, Ministry of Health (Ministerio de Salud), as well as affecting public health, lack of health services hits the dignity and human rights of people.
To reduce growth and prevent the spread of disease through contact with waste, the Health ministry developed a program to provide sanitary infrastructure to 1,500 families each year.
According to a study based on the census data and the 2014 National Household Survey (datos de censos y la Encuesta Nacional de Hogares 2014) between 2000 and 2014, the country experienced a growth in the use of septic tanks and fall from 31% tp 27% for sanitary sewers.
Mora said that the drop in sanitary sewer is due to the country “waiting” on the Environmental Improvement Project of San Jose (Proyecto de Mejoramiento Ambiental de San José), located in La Uruca, which is expected to start operation later this year, years behind schedule.
Mora explained that, although not as advisable in terms of efficiency and environmental care, the septic tank is a measure of primary treatment, which removes between 30% and 40% organic matter in excrement.
The country currently operates 57 water treatment plants and of the 20 managed by the AyA, only 12 meet the requirements of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Eniveronment (MINAE). Of the five managed by the Empresa de Servicios Públicos de Heredia (ESPH) only four comply.
Of the menaining 32, managed by local municipalities and rutal water systems, their efficiency is a mystery.