The Water Research Commission, supported by various government departments and with funds from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is driving the development of “water smart” toilets.
These need no sewage or water supply connections and could be a sustainable solution to national sanitation challenges.
The Water Research Commission (WRC) prides itself on championing innovative methods and has launched a sanitation programme to drive the development and commercialisation of “water-smart” reinvented toilets in South Africa.
It has managed to successfully achieve this through the WRC’s South African Sanitation Technology Enterprise Programme (SASTEP).
This initiative is funded through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Department of Science and Technology and supported by the South African Local Government Office of The Presidency through the Sanitation Appropriate for Schools Programme.
Also involved in the initiative is the Department of Human Settlements and the Department of Water and Sanitation.
These remain key strategic partners of the WRC and invaluable sources of information and resources.
This programme focuses on internal treatment systems to process human waste and kill the pathogens that make people sick, thus allowing it to meet global safety and performance requirements.
All this is achieved without connections to sewers or water supply.
The initiative will match South African companies and investors to a global portfolio of off-grid sanitation technologies to develop, pilot, localise and bring to the market for local communities, schools, and rural and peri-urban households.
This is an important aspect given that rural and peri-urban households remain a high priority in South Africa’s redress.
The initiative is referred to as SASTEP and will also strengthen the manufacturing and service delivery base required to support the development and scaling of the reinvented toilet in South Africa.
To demonstrate the potential of the reinvented toilet as a sustainable solution to national sanitation challenges, the initiative will work with local communities to pilot proven and emerging technologies alongside the business and service models used to maintain the systems.
Local innovations which fit the criteria and are designed to meet the new SABS 30500 standard for non-sewered sanitation systems could also join the programme for further support and evaluation. Through innovation and smart chain supply, universal access can be achieved sustainably and linked to water security and business opportunities.
The lessons learnt on this platform will be translated into a “Pan-African offering” for further engagement and dissemination.
The collaboratory aspect of this project is valuable as no one department or research institution can achieve the desired goals for the country while working in silos.
Incorporating the communities that are most likely to benefit the most from SASTEP is yet another method of improving stakeholder relations within the WRC and its partners.
It also illustrates commitment to excelling in providing innovative water solutions that work for the greater populace.
In 2015 the then deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, issued a call that “its not all about flushing”.
This was a resounding call that was done in recognition of transformation and disruptive solutions. Furthermore, in 2018 while responding to challenges to school sanitation, President Ramaphosa highlighted and recommended the introduction of new innovative solutions to the school sanitation system.
This led to the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) Initiative.
Innovative, non-sewered sanitation solutions such as the reinvented toilet show promise as a way to transform the quality and prevalence of safe, dignified sanitation for children in schools.
This is not only limited to our schools, but also extends to informal settlements as well as other communities where safe sanitation is scarce.
Thus SASTEP will partner with the SAFE initiative (Sanitation Appropriate for Education) as an early adopter platform and build from previous success of the SASTEP programme.
It will build consumer (community) testing, operation and maintenance services, technology readiness testing and gender intentionality into its implementation guidelines to advise future schools sanitation policy.
SASTEP’s reinvented toilet initiative will be developed and implemented in partnership with public sector leaders, including the Department of Trade and Industry, public investment teams in the Industrial Development Corporation, the Development Bank of South Africa and Public Investment Corporation and academic partners at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Testbed partners such as the City of eThekwini, the Department of Basic Education, private sector supply chain and investment partners will all form part of the partnership to ensure that all sectors are catered to.
South Africa is ready to take on the challenge of creating a new industry that provides dignified solutions to all our people, while creating more businesses and jobs.
The medium-term view is to build an industrial platform that attracts private sector investment and disrupts the current technology trajectory of the sanitation industry through affordable innovative technologies, service delivery and entrepreneurship models.
The robustness of “Reinvent the toilets” technologies (RTT) will be tested in multiple field environments by matchmaking South African commercial partners with public sector testbed partners, thereby driving stronger business cases for localisation and industrial development.
According to the WRC CEO, Mr Dhesigen Naidoo: “New revolutionary sanitation is not only our best chance to fully meet the SDG of universal access to safe and improved sanitation – it is also a great opportunity to develop Sunrise industries and stimulate a new category of industrialisation and a new generation of entrepreneurs. We are aware of the massive challenge in disrupting current VIP toilet options and service norms, but are excited that we have the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and various South African institutions and departments as strategic partners on this journey.”
Echoing the sentiment of Naidoo, Dr Doulaye Kone in his capacity as deputy director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation shared his excitement when he said: “We are honoured to partner with WRC and the government of South Africa on this ground-breaking initiative.”
He said this particular expansion of non-sewered sanitation solutions, such as the reinvented toilet, had the potential to dramatically reduce the human and economic toll of unsafe sanitation in
This would have a positive impact on improving existing sanitation systems and contribute to building new, sustainable approaches that protect people from disease.
This, he hopes, will be beneficial for generations to come and happens to be in line with the goals of the WRC.