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Hlengiwe Cele 
Minister of Science and Technology unveils pour-flush/low-flush sanitation technology in Cofimvaba

The Water Research Commission (WRC) introduces innovative alternative sanitation solutions to rural schools, bridging the gap between dry on-site and waterborne sanitation.  This WRC -funded toilet system was unveiled at St Marks Primary School by the Minister of Science and Technology (DST), Naledi Pandor, while visiting communities of Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape on Friday, 12 June 2015.

WRC research has adapted pour-flush sanitation – a popular on-site sanitation option in Asian countries, for use in South Africa. Similar to a full-flush toilet, with pour-flush water is poured in by the user rather than coming from a cistern. The system uses significantly less water – only one or two litres as opposed to the five to seven litres needed for a conventional flush toilet system.  There is no complex sewerage and wastewater treatment network required, making it much cheaper to install, operate and maintain.

The first project, initiated in 2009, investigated the possibility of adapting pour-flush sanitation for use by South Africans. This research was led by Partners in Development. Some changes had to be made to the pour-flush toilets usually used in Asia to suit South Africans as they mostly prefer to sit rather than squat, so a pedestal had to be provided.  The toilets also had to be able to handle anal-cleansing material, such as toilet paper or newspaper.

Rather than a conventional sewage system, the pour-flush toilet block is attached to two leach pits. When one leach pit becomes full, a switch is made to the alternative pit.

After extensive testing, the first two toilets were installed in Pietermaritzburg in September 2010. The pilot tests show that pour-flush toilets operate successfully in four KZN and three Western Cape municipalities. Currently, over 200 pour-flush and 8 low-flush units are in operation in 70 schools, with no problems or blockages having been reported. Consequently, a further 20 household demonstration units were built as well as 3 toilets at a crèche.  Households can use greywater for flushing.

Further units have been constructed in pilot studies in the Western Cape to test the efficacy of these systems in dense settlements. Toilets have been successfully installed in three areas, namely, Klipheuwel informal settlement, Cape Town; The Klein Begin Community, Grabouw and Enkanini informal settlement, Stellenbosch.

Thanks to the DST for funding this particular system as part of a greater project addressing a holistic approach to education in rural schools in Cofimvaba. The introduction of this innovation in the Nciba circuit was done as a partnership between the DST and the WRC.

In order for the system to work in an institutional setting, such as a school, the pour-flush was converted to low-flush technology, i.e., a small cistern was added so that users would not need to fill a bucket in order to flush. The prototype was successfully piloted in two schools in the Durban area in partnership with eThekwini Municipality, namely, Sizimisele Primary School and Thandaza High School.

Advantages of low-flush technology: 

- Looks similar to a flush toilet

- Has a water seal which eliminates odours and insects

- Users do not see the contents of pit when using toilet

Leach pit is not under the toilet, so the risk of the toilet collapsing or small       children falling into the pit through the pedestal is eliminated

 -    Cost comparable to VIP ( cheaper than a full-flush toilet with septic tank

 -    Sustainable use of water 

 -   Users may not use toilet as a rubbish bin, extending the lifespan of the pit 

  -   Suitable to rural and high density settlements alike

The conventional VIP (ventilated improved pit) toilets which have been installed in the past are gender and child insensitive, since they cannot be used at night by females and children and they have to walk long distances to use the facility.

While commenting on the pour-flush technology Mr Jay Bhagwan, Executive Manager for Water Use and Waste Management at the WRC, said, “People do not accept VIPs as an adequate solution.  Most people aspire to full-flush toilets. Politically we are sending the wrong message which is fueling the aspiration of full waterborne sanitation.  We are a water-stressed country and waterborne sanitation will not serve our water security in the future.  We need to continue to be innovative”.  

 For more information contact Mr Jay Bhagwan, email: jayb@wrc.org.za


Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor visiting Arthur Mfebe Senior Secondary School in Cofimvaba
Pour Flush toilet facility in St Marks Primary School
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