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Sanitation – a global revolution is afoot  
The Water Research Commission gets global acknowledgement for their leading work on the African continent

More than a thousand delegates from 61 countries converged in Chennai, India, in the third week of February 2017 to discuss the global sanitation challenge. This was the 4th international conference held on Faecal Sludge Management – FSM4. In her opening keynote address, South Africa’s Minister of Water and Sanitation, Nomvula Mokonyane, was clear – the economic and social arguments are stronger than ever for a huge injection of investment into safe sanitation globally, but perhaps our strongest driver is the quest to expand the frontiers of dignity. The SDG (sustainable development goal) target for sanitation is an ambitious one, and was the subject of much discussion and anxiety for the delegates from around the world. Global universal sustainable access to safe sanitation by 2030 is without doubt an immense challenge.

Water Research Commission’s research the foundation of a new sanitation platform for the world”

The experiences of various countries, including South Africa and India, served as important case studies not only for their triumphs, but perhaps more importantly for the insights gained from the various interventions that were not as successful. It was also clear that many countries have plans to meet the SDG targets well before the 2030 timeframe. Perhaps one of the more ambitious is India’s target in the context of the Swachh Bharat or the ‘Clean India’ campaign. This is led directly from the office of the Prime Minister. The target is to end open defaecation and achieve universal access to improved sanitation by 2 October 2019 – the 150th birthday of Mahatma Ghandi. The progress reports presented at the conference by the Secretaries of the various national and state ministries indicate a rate of progress that is very encouraging. South Africa’s own trajectory indicates achievement of the SDG target well before 2030.

Moving from waste to wealth

South Africa featured prominently at FSM4: through the national ministry’s efforts on the policy and the roll-out of the Bucket Eradication Campaign; the Water Research Commission (WRC), led by Jay Bhagwan and the sanitation team, with its globally leading work on sanitation innovations; and the City of eThekwini, in partnership with the University of KwaZulu-Natal, as one of the world’s leading city sanitation demonstrations on the ground, and the foundation of a new sanitation platform for the world. The key of course is the treatment of the waste – which is what will eventually decide the level of sustainability. This was the focus of the majority of the conference sessions. The presentations and workshops ranged from smarter business models for removal of faecal sludge to cutting-edge technologies for faecal waste beneficiation. The latter ranged from the classic solutions of fertilizer production to biogas harvesting and even biofuels production – all of which turns the conversation from ‘waste to wealth’ – a slogan that has been adopted in many environments already.

It was also gratifying to get global acknowledgement for the leading work that is happening on the African continent, both in the domain of creating new solutions as well as being the test-bed of preference for many of the new technology platforms and business models. The road ahead is both daunting and incredibly exciting as we explore the pathway to accelerate access to safe sanitation and greater health security for all of the world’s people; but we are approaching it in a manner that is catalytic for waste beneficiation and resource recovery, and that may well turn the blight of poor sanitation of the past into a vibrant pillar of development tomorrow. The CEO of the Water Research Commission, Mr Dhesigen Naidoo, also received a leadership award for his role in water and water management.  The award was presented by Dr Bhatia, founder of World Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Day and World Sustainability.

It is important to acknowledge the contributions of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. BMGF has catalysed the global dialogue on the back of the ‘reinvent the toilet’ campaign, and through the hard work of the likes of Doulaye Kone and Brian Arbogast and their team, has helped to glue together the various initiatives around the world into the powerful global force that was witnessed in Chennai.

Article compiled by Dhesigen Naidoo, WRC CEO


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