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Sudhir Pillay  
Addressing sanitation services in South Africa

Despite being a constitutional right, there remains a significant portion of the country’s population without access to sanitation services. The 2012 National Report on the Status of Sanitation Services indicated that around 1.4 million formal households still required sanitation services and around 0.5 million households in informal settlements are making use of interim services. This situation is not due to a lack of trying or willpower; eradicating the sanitation backlog is one of the most challenging aspects to most, if not all, developing countries across the globe. One of the difficulties associated with sanitation provision is linked to the availability and appropriateness of technologies to meet changing demography, user preferences, budgetary constraints and water resource requirements. In the past, the conventional wisdom was to implement conventional flush toilets connected to the waterborne sewerage network. However, new challenges associated with water availability, climate change, pollution and the rising costs associated with conventional technology are making us rethink and evaluate sanitation delivery, and more specifically the need for newer solutions. New technologies bring about another set of issues regarding user acceptance and institutional management of waste streams post-toilet implementation.

In response to the growing sanitation challenges, several new sanitation technologies and innovations are beginning to enter the market.  Some of these have been developed whilst some have been improved upon in order to meet the various requirements for sanitation access across a wide variety of settings (from urban environment to the rural). However, there has been no mechanism to document or adequately establish the appropriateness of these innovation responses. Consequently, the innovations that are available or have been developed are often not well understood or appraised. In some cases, the lack of information has led to the wrong choice of sanitation technology being implemented, the proposed technology not meeting its intended purpose and / or uncertainties of the functioning, institutional and operational and maintenance requirements of the new technologies have led to the toilets being operated in an unsustainable manner. This has often led to serious disrepair beyond normal operational and maintenance requirements several months or years after implementation. For this reason, emerging technologies are often met with skepticism and therefore fail to achieve wider uptake and application.

To address this constraint, the Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation have partnered with the Water Research Commission (WRC) to set up the Sanitation Innovation Challenge (SaNIC). The Challenge will provide a mechanism for the evaluation and demonstration of sanitation innovations developed for various settings (urban, peri-urban and rural). We invite out-of-the-box thinkers to put forward innovative solutions to addressing the sanitation challenge in the country by submitting an Expression of Interest letter to the WRC via email (challenge@wrc.org.za). For this Challenge, we seek solutions that are ready for demonstration as sanitation provision is an urgent need. It is envisaged that outcome from this Challenge will provide strong recommendations to national and local government on the appropriateness and effectiveness of the new technologies.

Contact:  Dr Sudhir Pillay–Assistant Research Manager, Water Use and Waste Management

Email: sudhirp@wrc.org.za  or call 012 330 0340

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