Are we on track with sustainable sanitation services?
Providing financially sustainable sanitation services to a growing population in South Africa, whilst reducing the backlog of people who do not have access to hygienic sanitation facilities remains a challenge at national, provincial, and local government level.
According to the Department of Water Affairs 2008 report, approximately 15 million of the South African population are still without access to adequate sanitation .The backlog is being reduced at the rate of approximately 220 000 units per annum .
The recently-released Water Research Commission (WRC) study presents 18 case studies of different types of sanitation systems in different provinces, in which between 4 and 12 years of operational history have been evaluated.
It was found that there was no single type of sanitation that fared uniformly well. “For example, at Ntuthukoville in Pietermaritzburg the waterborne sanitation which was provided in 1996 as part of the services upgrade to an informal settlement has worked very well, but the municipality is left carrying bad debts totalling tens of thousands of rands per home’’ says Mr Bhagwan who managed the study . In another example, in Newline, Mpumalanga, the VIPs(ventilated improved pit toilet ) continue to fulfil their function with no significant problems 11 years after construction, whereas at Mbazwana in northern Kwa-Zulu Natal, after a similar time period, five out of 25 VIPs inspected had collapsed; at Inadi 15 out of the 27 inspected were full. Similarly, the urine diversion toilets at Bereaville, Kammiesberg and eThekwini are reported to be working well, whereas those at Koel Park and Ekurhuleni have been disastrous. A common lesson is that failure to properly involve the community in the sanitation choice, in the sanitation implementation, and in health and hygiene education is likely to result in poor functioning of the resulting latrines.
A thousand people were interviewed from poor rural or peri-urban communities, approximately half of whom have to date benefited from government sanitation projects. Even though the study revealed that the new toilets were found to be cleaner and freer of flies and odour, it is a concern that there was no difference found between the two groups (those who have benefitted from government sanitation projects versus those who have not) in the likelihood of a hand-washing facility being found near the toilet.
Mr Jay Bhagwan states that the key recommendation of the study is to warn planners to choose the easily-maintained sanitation options such as movable VIP toilets (with lightweight top structures), twin pit VIPs (with relatively shallow and therefore more emptyable pits) or single or double pit urine diversion toilets.
“The practice of building sanitation infrastructure while not allowing for adequate maintenance in the future, whether it is basic VIP sanitation or full waterborne sanitation, is short-sighted and will result in South Africa facing a sanitation crisis in the medium term” says Bhagwan. “In the next 5 years South Africa will have at least a million VIP latrines in need of emptying. On the longer term it can be expected that approximately five million VIP latrines will need servicing per year, at an approximate cost (in 2009 rands) of R600 million per year’’ he adds.
Waterborne sanitation is more popular with users and politicians, but there is an associated cost. While it is possible to build the on-site structure, the sewer connection and local reticulation for not much more than a VIP latrine (R7 000 to R9 000 per site is a reasonable budget figure), the additional costs of bulk water and bulk sewerage provision and the cost of waterborne sanitation amount to well over R30 000 per site.
The cost of operation and maintenance of waterborne sanitation is not less than R40 per family per month, but depending on water costs and water use efficiency it can easily be five times as much. The population in many South African towns and cities is poor; therefore, it is likely that this cost will be fully carried by the municipality. If the municipality is unable or unwilling to budget to maintain fully waterborne systems, then it should opt for dry or semi-dry sanitation systems.
“Urine diversion type toilets have proven successful in some cases, but not all. They have two important selling points: the first is that they can be relatively easily managed by users themselves; second is that they allow the users to capture a waste product (urine) which has great value as a liquid fertiliser’ says Bhagwan .
The study also observed that, in the case studies forming part of this report, this type of sanitation performs particularly poorly in communal settings and in settings where there has not been acceptance by the users of their role in the maintenance of the system.
For additional support for decision makers the WRC has developed a software tool that works with the user interactively, to progressively eliminate unsuitable sanitation options by asking appropriate questions. View the full report here.
WRC Report No.TT 414/09 Basic sanitation services in South Africa – Learning from the past, planning for the future provides recommendations for the successful implementation of the system. A copy is available on request at the WRC Publications Office – email: email@example.com or Tel: 012 330 9015.