Smart technologies for sanitation – Faecal Sludge Management Conference 2, Durban, ICC
Fuel generation from toilets, biodiesel from faeces, fertiliser from urine, hydrophobic coatings for toilets, and charcoal from faeces… the list is endless. This has been one of the conclusions of the International Faecal Sludge Management Conference hosted by the Water Research Commission (WRC), in partnership with the Melinda & Bill Gates Foundation (BMGF) and eThekwini Municipality, at the ICC in Durban. Leading scientists, practitioners and innovators presented cutting-edge sanitation solutions aimed at closing the MDG gaps and tackling the challenges of sanitation provision in growing cities of the developing world.
"This is unprecedented – after 200 years of wasteful flushing the science sector is pushing the boundaries of sanitation which aligns itself to beneficiation, and which in itself deals with challenges associated with poverty, food and energy security, and water constraints under climate change", comments Jay Bhagwan, WRC Executive Manager for Water Use and Waste Management.
The Faecal Sludge Management Conference was attended by more than 300 delegates from all over the world and showcased more than 50 innovative technologies and processes that could lead to the emergence of new businesses while addressing the sanitation crisis that exists in many developing countries.
A new drive to provide a waterless toilet, an impetus created by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through its Sanitation Grand Challenge Programme, kept the sanitation scientists and practitioners on their toes for 3 days. Whether it is wise to flush a toilet with 5 litres or even more, of clean water that has been treated to potable standards is an issue of concern. Due to climate change and water scarcity, new interest in alternatives to sanitation systems that require significant quantities to flush and transport human waste requires new thinking, since this water must be cleaned again before returning it to the environment.
A number of technologies from different parts of the world are already moving towards a pathogen-free toilet catering for the needs of the poor. These sanitation technologies need not only be structures but should also look at the critical issue of safe disposal of waste from full pits and beneficial use of sludge.
“In most African countries the focus is on the provision of new toilets whereas the maintenance of those already built still remains a challenge,” comments Bhagwan. South Africa, for example, has more than 1.5 million on-site dry sanitation systems, in the form of Ventilated Improved Pit (VIPs) latrines and their derivatives. Most municipalities do not as yet have any policies, budgets or procedures for the ongoing maintenance or emptying of on-site sanitation systems. "A rough estimate suggests that in the rest of the SADC there may perhaps be another 5 million urban latrines, many of which will need emptying within 5 years", said Bhagwan.
Recent trials in South Africa have suggested that controlled addition of faecal sludge can strongly benefit the growth of certain plants and trees. Indeed, faecal sludge can strongly outperform fertiliser, explains David Still, who led a WRC study in Umlazi in 2008. Previously, the burial of untreated faecal sludge has raised concerns about the environment and particularly the contamination of groundwater. Preliminary results suggest that these fears can be reasonably allayed and, as such, the burial of faecal sludge, along with careful planting, offers a promising means for its safe disposal.
An open call to all of the interested innovators to participate in ‘Reinventing the Toilet Challenge’ was announced by Doulaye Kone, Senior Programme Officer at BMGF. Bill and Melinda Gates have developed interest in assisting developing countries to improve their sanitation by injecting funding, through their Foundation, into the development of innovative sanitation technologies.
“The BMGF seeks to find a stand-alone, pathogen-free, self-contained, practical sanitation facility, which is capable of taking human waste or faecal sludge collected from pit latrines and swiftly disposing of it without any incoming water piping, outgoing sewer piping or electric or gas utility services”, says Kone. It should cost less than five cents per user per day to operate and require neither a supply of clean water nor sewerage infrastructure to take the waste away.
“The biggest challenge in Africa is that most of the pilot projects have not been taken to full-scale implementation, which poses a big problem for sanitation provision”, comments Kone.
If the toilet is to be reinvented, new markets exist for getting these to customers, which makes sanitation a growing business venture, explains David Schaub-Jones, a co-founder of Seesaw News, an organisation that focuses on water and sanitation technologies.
The WRC has initiated and supported a pilot programme of ‘sanitation franchising’ which has shown huge successes in the Eastern Cape through the establishment of a franchisor Impilo Yabantu, now equipped with skills, business approaches and access to capital. Impilo Yabantu is made up of previously unemployed men and women in the Eastern Cape who clean and empty school toilets, operating under a contract to the South African Department of Education.
“The critical challenge is always going to be community acceptance,’’ says Dhesigen Naidoo, CEO of the WRC. This is why we are investing in the cultural, social and psychological factors that will eventually make non-water dependent sanitation solutions the mechanism of choice for communities”.
“The conference has demonstrated that we are way ahead in achieving the sanitation future for the many of the poor in developing countries, as well as the 'reinventing the toilet' challenge” comments Bhagwan.
Click here to view the video clips taken during the conference.
The presentations and papers of the conference are now available online
Contact: Jay Bhagwan – WRC Executive Director, Water Use and Waste Management, Cell: 083 290 7232 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org