Example of a UD toilet in DurbanThe Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) together with the Department of Science and Technology (DST) have made a plea to industry to help improve access to quality sanitation in South Africa.

Despite significant progress since 1994, sanitation in South Africa remains a huge challenge, particularly in rural and peri-urban environments, where many communities are still using pit latrines which pose health and safety risks.

Compounding the problem is water scarcity, which is becoming the biggest risk to development in Africa, with many countries water-stressed and forced to use low-quality water.

The department, the BMGF and the Water Research Commission (WRC) recently met industry in a workshop aimed at forming partnerships that will bring lasting solutions to sanitation problems in the country through the South African Sanitation Technology Demonstration Programme (SASTEP).

The idea is to support the development of innovative and ground-breaking technologies to improve sanitation in South Africa, while creating a new sanitation market in the country.

SASTEP was launched in 2014 to promote research into new-generation sanitation solutions that are innovative, off-the-grid, and affordable to poor communities. The WRC is demonstrating innovative, new-generation sanitation technologies in some parts of the country.

In Indwe in the Eastern Cape, for example, over 200 composting toilets called Earth Auger sanitation units are being tested. Each unit costs roughly R7500 to install. The project has led to the creation of 30 local jobs.


Smart solutions to save resources

Painting a picture of the need for proper sanitation all over the world, Dr Doulaye Koné of the BMGF said that the flush toilet serves only a third of the global population, adding that it does not make sense to waste tons of water on flushing considering the current water shortages faced by the world.

“We cannot continue with solutions that waste precious resources. We know what the majority of people need and what should be done. We should not be debating this any further,” Dr Konétold told delegates.

According to Dr Koné, over 2 billion people all over the world still had no access to proper sanitation and no significant investment to improve sanitation and increase poor communities’ access had been made in over 200 years.

BMGF, as a charity organisation, was working with commercial partners who could pull together resources to deploy large-scale sanitation technology solutions to serve the most vulnerable populations around the world and reduce inequality.


Creating jobs

Another important aspect of SASTEP, he said, was the potential for job creation by demonstrating sufficient confidence in the technologies to attract business and scale-up the application of these technologies.

Echoing similar sentiments, the DST’s Deputy Director-General: Socio-economic Innovation Partnerships, Imraan Patel, said the Department’s work was informed by the need to use science, technology and innovation to achieve inclusive development and strengthen local economic development.

Patel said the focus was to make the most of any opportunity to improve the quality of life of all South Africans. SASTEP should lead to better human settlements, create local economic development opportunities, and make the DST a leader in the development of new sanitation technologies in the country.


Building links with government

“One other important objective is to build stronger links between government, the private sector and research institutions, where we can all take collective responsibility for creating growth,” said Patel.

Attending the event, Sandia Pillay of SP Investment Holdings appealed to business to be prepared to walk the journey, saying that there were commercial opportunities to consume these technologies.

“Business needs to meet the innovation revolution [SASTEP] presents and start thinking out of the box, and stop focusing only on the commercial side of things while the ordinary man on the street is being deprived of his right to human dignity,” she said.

Rudy Roberts, CEO of emerging enterprise Water Engineering and Pumping Technologies agreed, saying it could not be business as usual. Roberts is already looking at investment opportunities with SASTEP.