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Installing urine collection systems in sub-Saharan urban areas would make these urban areas more sustainable. This is demonstrated in a study by four researchers from CIRAD, IRD, Boubacar Ba University of Tillaberi (Niger) and Joseph qui Zerbo University of Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), published May 3, 2023 in the journal ” It was published in “Regional Environmental Change”. For their study, the researchers analyzed nitrogen streams in waste from two sub-Saharan cities, Maradi (Niger) and Ouagadougou. This study is the first to show that urine is the major source of nitrogen loss. Collecting that urine has the potential to yield valuable fertilizers suitable for local agricultural use, helping to make food systems in urban areas more sustainable.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s current trajectory of urban development is not sustainable. Rapidly growing cities constitute nutrient sinks that depend on nutrient-poor hinterlands. These sinks, and the degradation and runoff of nutrients in the hinterland, have significant environmental and health consequences. This goes against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 11, which aims to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.
To give authorities a cross-cutting picture of the city’s nutrient sink situation, researchers identified and analyzed different waste streams. Their approach distinguished four nested spatial levels. A potential local recycling system. both national and international level. Based on that analysis, the researchers focused on the origin and fate of these nutrient-bearing waste streams. The method was applied to nitrogen in Maradi and Ouagadougou to determine whether and to what extent these urban areas can make progress towards sustainable urban food systems. Focusing on the nitrogen in waste rather than the waste stream itself allows for a systematic understanding that is beneficial to local governments.
This study showed that maradi is a nitrogen sink even though it remains central to a relatively sustainable urban food system. However, it is quite possible that Ouagadougou will develop into a situation similar to that of Ouagadougou, with large nitrogen sinks and little recycling of the urban hinterland. These two cities, despite their contrasting sizes of about 400,000 each and her 2.8 million inhabitants at present, are highly diverse in their biophysical, climatological, agronomic, and socioeconomic environments. I grew up in a very similar environment. Each result can therefore be considered a rough picture of the development trajectory.
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This study provides the first overview of waste-laden nitrogen streams in sub-Saharan cities. Whereas previous existing reports provided only partial sectoral assessments focusing on either waste management, sanitation or agriculture, this study focuses on nitrogen losses due to sanitation and waste management. was shown to significantly exceed other waste-bearing nitrogen flows in these cities. Therefore, urine is the major source of nitrogen loss. Urine collection efforts to make urine available as fertilizer will make urban systems more independent and resilient. This will improve local food supplies, reduce urban water pollution caused by sanitation, and make urban systems more sustainable. The researchers believe that addressing the possibility of urine recycling would be a worthwhile follow-up to this study.
reference: Wassenaar T, Bodo BS, Hilou A, Rochelle-Newall E. Nitrogen metabolism in growing sub-Saharan cities and prospects for transitioning from local sinks to sustainable urban-area food systems. Change registration environment. 2023;23(2). Doi: 10.1007/s10113-023-02070-x
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