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Sudhir Pillay  

United Nations World Toilet Day:19 November 2014

The 19th November 2014 is the UN World Toilet Day. The theme for this year’s World Toilet Day is “Equality and Dignity” which seeks to provide a spotlight on the community’s vulnerable groups specifically the disabled, women and children. In recognition of the theme of this year’s Toilet Day, the Water Research Commission (WRC) wishes to inform the public sector of its various sanitation innovations and products and how they could assist in achieving the country’s national development goals.

Many innovative products have been developed from WRC-funded research to guide the sanitation sector. One of the WRC’s flagship projects involved the operation and maintenance of school sanitation facilities using the social franchising model (Research Project TT564/13). Together with Department of Education (DoE), Irish Aid and the CSIR, the project involved the franchising of the operation and maintenance services as a means of ensuring the quality of the water and sanitation services. At the same time, franchising would support the development of local micro-enterprises and broad based black economic empowerment within public service delivery area. For the pilot, Amanz’abuntu Services set up a subsidiary, Impilo Yabantu (“Water for People” in Xhosa) Services, to facilitate the training of local franchisors in the Butterworth Education District, Eastern Cape. Locals close to home base of each franchisee were recruited and trained. The trainee franchisors met with district staff and principals to establish a schedule and to allocate a service area that was in close proximity to trainee franchisors home base. The trainee franchisors were supplied with basic cleaning equipment, a light delivery vehicle demarcated with the Impilo Yabantu logo and a digital camera to visually assess the effect of maintenance services on school toilets. Each franchise did an inspection of the school sanitation facilities and reported back to the DoE managers on status of facilities and subsequently, the repair and maintenance costs for listed items agreed upon. This process enabled on-going service relationships to be developed. So far, around 400 schools in the Butterworth District have benefitted from the franchise. The improvement of sanitation facilities with the pilot area has been so successful that the DoE has requested that the programme be extended to a further 3 districts housing 1,000 schools. Although Amanz’abantu still manages the franchisees as sub-contractors, it is envisaged that once franchisees revenue streams become established they could engage the DoE and other interested parties independently and manage their own activities.

An off-grid, low flush toilet was developed through WRC funding (Research Project K3/1887) for those communities which aspire to flushing toilets. The system developed does not need tapped water supply for flushing or complicated sewer laying; it can use greywater or collected rainwater for flushing and the pipe from the toilet can lead into a leach pit. From the outside, the toilet looks no different to a full flush toilet. Inside the toilet, the bowel is funnel shaped and has a modified gooseneck to allow for flushing of toilet paper with 1 litre, and if need be, newspaper with a bit more water. Pilot studies of low flush toilet, in its first incarnation as hand flushing system and then with a low flush cistern, have been relatively successful. Pilot studies were conducted in schools in KwaZulu-Natal and different low-income communities in the Western Cape. Significant savings in flushing water have been achieved with users expressing satisfaction of the technology in many of the pilots. The technology has the added benefit of being able to be retrofitted to some existing dry sanitation structures and the design of the pipe leading from toilet to the leach pit discourages trash dumping into the bowel, one of the major operational and maintenance challenges associated with ventilated improved pit latrine toilets. From the research, two toilet products have been separately developed; a low flush toilet by EnviroSan which can be hand flushed or upgraded with a low flush cistern and the Microflush toilet developed through the research from the Western Cape. Further pilots are planned in the KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape including those for school sanitation.

Last year, the WRC commissioned Research Project K5/2381 to Partners in Development to evaluate the design of existing rural school infrastructure and develop a model and guideline for optimal design. These key criteria that will be looked at are adequacy and access, privacy and security, child friendly, appropriate for local environmental, cultural and social conditions, inside lighting, menstrual management facilities, hand washing, operation and maintenance, and robustness. Partners in Development were also commissioned to construct school toilets in Limpopo using timber from the Department of Environmental Affairs alien invasive removal programme (Research Project K5/2407). The application of timber, although not common in South Africa, in construction of superstructures allows quick turn-around; the structures can be pre-fabricated and also moved at a later stage. Timber frame toilets with WRC-developed low flush units were constructed at six Limpopo schools, including one toilet for the disabled. The 6 schools were all provided toilets in 3 months; a relatively fast project completion in relation to brick and mortar construction. With a reliable supply of timber and the construction becoming familiar with timber frame construction, one school toilet block can be completed in 3 weeks.

 The WRC has also partnered with the Department of Science & Technology and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to tackle the country’s sanitation backlog through the use of technological innovations. The partnership has resulted in the creation of South African Sanitation Technology Demonstration Programme (SASTEP), which will see innovative, new-generation sanitation technologies, developed under the BMGF’s Re-Invent the Toilet Challenge, demonstrated in South Africa. Under SASTEP, several district municipalities and schools in need of critical sanitation intervention in the Eastern Cape will host the next generation of toilet systems. These off-grid technologies offer the same convenience as full flush toilet but with less sludge management challenges associated with on-site dry toilets. Some of the toilets have included plans for menstrual management as part of the design. The Loughborough toilet, for example, can handle and sanitise nappies and menstrual pads in this system through its pressurised cooking treatment unit.

In late October this year, a workshop was in the Eastern Cape with funders and technology developers, and included site visits to potential demonstration sites. Workshop attendees were transported to Cofimvaba municipal offices, where attendees met with councillors and municipal officials from Cofimvaba and the Chris Hani Municipality. These meetings served to formally inform the local administration of SASTEP activities within the Chris Hani Municipality, and procedurally seek approval from councillors.

 The workshop then proceeded to visit Arthur Mfebe Secondary School, Gando Junior Secondary School, and Ntshingeni Junior Secondary School. The conditions of the schools provided an indication of challenges faced by rural schools with regards to sanitation, and what sanitation services and initiatives had been achieved with the support of local municipality. These included the piloting of WRC-funded low flush toilet as well as toilet blocks assembled from pre-fabricated materials.

The workshop continued in Pretoria, where there was a public launch of the SASTEP programme and allowed the opportunity for stakeholders to engage with technology developers. Through the series of research projects and programmes, the WRC aims to provide technological sanitation innovations that allow for appropriate and sustainable solutions.

For further details contact: Water Research Commission Research Managers

Dr Sudhir Pillay e-mail:  sudhirp@wrc.org.za,  Tel: +27 (0)12 330 9007 or

Cell: +27 (0)60 502 1841

 Mr Stuart Woolley, e-mail: stuartw@wrc.org.za , Tel: +27 12 330 9057; Cell: +27 83 943 3383




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