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Sudhir Pillay 
WRC commemorates World Toilet Day – 19 November 2015

Today, 19 November 2015, is World Toilet Day. The theme for this year’s World Toilet Day draws on the link between nutrition and sanitation (http://www.un.org/en/events/toiletday/). Whilst the Water Research Commission (WRC) is evaluating innovations that link not sanitation with nutrition but also energy and water – for example, the DEWATS process in eThekwini Municipality – this brief will highlight some of key strategic initiatives around sanitation research.


Full waterborne sanitation coverage neither is difficult to attain for most developing countries nor is it recommended. For many years the Ventilated Improved Latrine or VIP has been considered the accepted basic standard for sanitation provision in South Africa. Because the design places the user above a pit containing faecal sludge, however, many families are afraid that their children could fall through the hole into the pit. Recent research conducted by Partners in Development has shown Whilst adults have expressed concern of falling into the poorly constructed latrines, many families do not let their younger children use the toilet (Research Project K5/2379). Consequently, there are instances where children defecate in the open. New toilet designs are needed which do not place the user above a pit.  Many new design ideas are being explored by the WRC and others. The following three have been implemented in various municipalities:

  • Pour flush or low flush:  The pedestal looks like that of a standard flush toilet. To flush, the user pours 1-3 litres of water into the pan (for the pour flush design) or uses the cistern flush mechanism to dispense 3.0 litres from the cistern (for the low flush design). The waste is flushed through a P trap and out to a simple soak pit.  The toilet is much like a regular flush toilet in appearance, eliminates dangers and smells, and can be installed inside the house.  Since 2010 pour flush toilets have been successfully piloted in homes in a number of municipalities around the country and in several schools. Low flush toilets have been piloted with success at two schools and at a small number of homes.  More information can be found on the pour flush design at:


  • Desiccating Toilet: Faeces falls onto a perforated plate or into a permeable bag which allows urine to drain through and evaporate.  The vault is not deep.  A wind-driven extractor fan pulls air through the toilet and out a pipe to remove smells and aid dehydration of urine.  This option is particularly suitable where the soil is very shallow or the water table is very high.
  • Urine diversion: The pan of the toilet has two sections: one collects urine and the other allows faeces to fall through into a vault. Urine flows into a pipe which then goes into the ground or is collected for dilution and use as liquid fertilizer. Sludge is drier because it doesn’t contain urine and the vault is too shallow to pose a serious risk of harm should the user fall in. eThewkini Municipality has used this design extensively for its rural households: http://www.susana.org/en/resources/library/details/911.
  • Re-Invent the Toilet (RTTC) Challenge: In 2011, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation initiated the “Re-Invent the Toilet Challenge” (RTTC). The aim was to develop an off-grid sanitation system that completely removes pathogens, recovers valuable resources such as energy and water, an aspiration product that people want to use and cost no more than US$0.5 cents per user per day. Many of the toilet systems developed use treatment processes new to the sanitation, such as carbonisation. Today, there are demonstration-ready toilets ready – the WRC together with the Department and Science and Technology (South Africa) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have partnered in demonstrating these systems in South Africa. The Caltech Toilet is one such innovation that will be demonstrated: http://www.caltech.edu/news/caltech-wins-toilet-challenge-23635.
  • Others: There are numerous technologies in the market today. Some of these technologies include package plants and other innovations that use of combination or hybridisation of different treatment process. Through the Sanitation Innovation Challenge “SanIC”, the WRC was, on behalf of the Department of Water and Sanitation, to collate information regarding different technologies and innovations available in the country. Previously, no such scan of the sanitation systems available was available in South Africa. Another world first was the development of a functionality assessment protocol for household sanitation systems that will serve as a decision-support tool for municipalities and implementers and will also guide innovators in the development of sanitation system. Because many of these innovations use a combination of treatment processes, it is difficult to assess whether a technology performs as marketed. This project also funded by the Department of Science and Technology aims to fill that knowledge gap.

Parents should know that it is not safe for babies, children or adults to defecate directly in the environment because of the diseases which can be present in faeces. If someone does defecate on the ground the faeces should be removed with some of the soil from beneath it and taken to the toilet. Then the spade should be washed carefully with soap.

Families who don’t feel that it is safe for their child to use the toilet should be informed of other options which will not contaminate their home environment:

·        Choose a place where people don’t walk and spread some newspaper on the ground. You can make a screen or small shelter around the area for privacy. Let the child defecate on the newspaper, then fold it and throw it into the toilet.

·         Make a small pit which children can defecate into without stepping in faeces. Cover the faeces with soil or ash each time. You can make a screen or small shelter around the toilet for privacy.

If any family member cannot use the toilet and uses a bucket inside the house, that bucket should not be used for anything else because it has been contaminated by faeces.


The WRC has invested into research that integrates agriculture into the design of sanitation systems. An example of this the Newlands Mashu DEWATS research facility in the eThekwini Municipality, Durban. The wastewater from around 80 households is connected to the Decentralised Wastewater Treatment System (DEWATS) which treats sewerage through gravitational flow. Through a staged-treatment process, the effluent is treated. A research team from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and led by Prof Alfred Odindo is investigating aspects around the re-use of the treated effluent in agriculture which includes evaluating DEWAT effluent and other sanitation treatment process by-products on different soils and crops, and pathogen loads. The larger vision of the municipality, and that of the WRC, is to use novel processes that are protect public health but at the same time alleviate water and food security challenge. Another example is the Rhodes University led research around Integrated Algal Pond Systems (IAPS). This system has a lower energy cost requirement than normal activated sludge treatment process units and the algae generated can be harvested for re-use as a fertiliser replacement.

Complied by Barbara Louton (Partners in Development) and Sudhir Pillay (WRC)

Contact: Dr Sudhir Pillay, Research Manager for Sanitation Research Fund for Africa Sudhirp@wrc.org.za


Pour Flush toilet installed in St Marks Primary School in Eastern Cape
Urine diversion toilet
Ventilated Pit Latrine , VIP
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