At the fore­front of waste so­lu­tions

Cape Times - - INSIGHT - Dr Sudhir Pillay

THE lack of san­i­ta­tion is one of the world’s lead­ing devel­op­ment chal­lenges.

Glob­ally, around 2 bil­lion peo­ple do not have ac­cess to ap­pro­pri­ate san­i­ta­tion.

In ad­di­tion, nearly a bil­lion of them do not have any toi­let.

Pro­vi­sion of a hy­gienic san­i­ta­tion so­lu­tion cou­pled with reg­u­lar hand­wash­ing and ac­cess to clean, drink­able wa­ter is known to have marked im­prove­ments on com­mu­nity health.

Read­ers of the Bri­tish Med­i­cal Jour­nal ranked clean wa­ter and safe sewage dis­posal as the most im­por­tant med­i­cal mile­stone in the past 150 years.

A WHO re­port re­leased in 2007 in­di­cated that it would be pos­si­ble to re­ceive an es­ti­mated $9 (R127) re­turn on in­vest­ment for ev­ery $1 spent by halv­ing the pop­u­la­tion with­out ac­cess to ap­pro­pri­ate san­i­ta­tion.

By achiev­ing the tar­get, the re­port sug­gested that around 190 mil­lion an­nual di­ar­rhoeal dis­eases could be averted glob­ally.

Although South Africa has made sig­nif­i­cant strides in safe wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion pro­vi­sion, there are still peo­ple who do not have an ap­pro­pri­ate san­i­ta­tion sys­tem.

The san­i­ta­tion chal­lenge is com­plex and is re­lated to user pref­er­ences and tech­ni­cal con­straints, and th­ese are of­ten hard to match.

A large part of the pop­u­la­tion would pre­fer a flush toi­let but this is a ma­jor chal­lenge in a wa­ter scarce coun­try such as South Africa.

For this rea­son, we of­ten find dry toi­lets out­side ma­jor ur­ban ar­eas as it is tech­ni­cally chal­leng­ing to pro­vide flush toi­let sys­tems in ar­eas where wa­ter is re­stricted and where there are no ex­ist­ing sew­ers.

The lay­ing of sewer pipes is ex­pen­sive and for it to func­tion ef­fec­tively, it re­quires both re­li­able en­ergy and a suf­fi­cient wa­ter sup­ply.

Re­cent cli­matic change events have also started to make us re­alise the value of us­ing clean wa­ter to flush down hu­man exc­reta, even for ar­eas with sewer sys­tems in place.

Dur­ing the Cape Town drought, cit­i­zens of the city re­alised it was not sen­si­ble to flush 9 to 12 litres of drink­ing wa­ter each time the toi­let was used.

Many started in­stead to re­cy­cle

their show­er­ing and laun­dry wa­ter to flush toi­lets.

On a na­tional level, bril­liant en­gi­neers are look­ing to re-en­gi­neer toi­let sys­tems that meet user ex­pec­ta­tions and use less re­sources, and de­vel­op­ing in­no­va­tive ways in which we can pro­vide sus­tain­able san­i­ta­tion so­lu­tions to South Africa.

In my field of work I have met many bril­liant en­gi­neers who have and con­tinue to make ad­mirable strides, par­tic­u­larly, in the field of san­i­ta­tion, and they hap­pen to be women!

Lungi Zuma is a chem­i­cal en­gi­neer who holds an un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree from the Univer­sity of Cape Town (UCT) and a Mas­ter’s de­gree from UKZN.

Af­ter work­ing in the petro­chem­i­cal in­dus­try, Zuma de­cided she would use her skills to as­sist with the san­i­ta­tion chal­lenge.

For her Mas­ter’s de­gree, she eval­u­ated how pit la­trines and

other dry toi­lets func­tion which in­volved her con­duct­ing chem­i­cal and phys­i­cal anal­y­sis on the fae­cal waste she col­lected.

This in­for­ma­tion is crit­i­cal for de­sign en­gi­neers to de­velop treat­ment sys­tems that can safely treat the fae­cal waste.

Zuma now works at eThek­wini Mu­nic­i­pal­ity and has been a key fig­ure in the devel­op­ment and eval­u­a­tion of novel san­i­ta­tion sys­tems at the mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

In 2015, she was in­vited by the then min­is­ter of wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion to take part in the Youth Day cel­e­bra­tions in Pre­to­ria af­ter show­ing the min­is­ter the in­no­va­tive treat­ment sys­tems in­stalled in eThek­wini dur­ing the San­i­ta­tion Ind­aba held in Dur­ban from 14 to 15 May 2015.

Af­ter work­ing in the petro­chem­i­cal in­dus­try, Zuma de­cided she would use her skills to as­sist with the san­i­ta­tion chal­lenge.

For her Mas­ter’s de­gree, she eval­u­ated how pit la­trines and other dry toi­lets func­tion which in­volved her con­duct­ing chem­i­cal and phys­i­cal anal­y­sis on the fae­cal waste she col­lected.

This in­for­ma­tion is crit­i­cal for de­sign en­gi­neers to de­velop treat­ment sys­tems that can safely treat the fae­cal waste.

Jeanette Neeth­ling is an en­gi­neer work­ing for Part­ners in Devel­op­ment, an en­gi­neer­ing firm based in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg.

Neeth­ling ob­tained her Mas­ter’s de­gree in en­vi­ron­men­tal en­gi­neer­ing from the Univer­sity of Colorado Boul­der in the US.

Neeth­ling has con­trib­uted to the devel­op­ment of many in­no­va­tive san­i­ta­tion so­lu­tions for South Africa. She has led three WRC stud­ies. The first fo­cused on de­vel­op­ing and test­ing bet­ter man­age­ment tech­niques for ru­ral schools.

The sec­ond eval­u­ated the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness and ap­pli­ca­bil­ity of fe­male uri­nals to shorten the length of queues at pub­lic ablu­tion fa­cil­i­ties.

Her lat­est re­search in­volves the mon­i­tor­ing of an in­no­va­tive toi­let sys­tem called the Low Pour Flush toi­let.

The Low Pour Flush toi­let was de­vel­oped by the com­pany that she works for.

This in­no­va­tive toi­let has been de­signed to use low vol­umes of flush wa­ter and can op­er­ate with­out the need for con­ven­tional sew­ers.

The in­no­va­tive school san­i­ta­tion man­age­ment project that she led has been suc­cess­ful; Unilever through its Domestos brand recog­nised the value of her work and up­scaled the prod­uct to as­sist with san­i­ta­tion pro­vi­sion in 150 schools.

Known to her peers as “Tina”, Dr Velkushanova is an en­vi­ron­men­tal en­gi­neer and an ex­pert in Wash and San­i­tary En­gi­neer­ing.

She holds a PhD de­gree in Civil and En­vi­ron­men­tal En­gi­neer­ing from the Univer­sity of Southamp­ton, UK. Tina is a se­nior re­search as­so­ciate at the Univer­sity of KwaZu­luNatal’s Pol­lu­tion Re­search Group, where she men­tored post-grad­u­ate stu­dents and pro­vided in­for­ma­tion for the im­proved de­sign of fu­ture on-site san­i­ta­tion fa­cil­i­ties and tech­nolo­gies, and me­chan­i­cal pit-emp­ty­ing de­vices (de­vices that can empty waste from dry toi­lets).

Some of th­ese projects are funded un­der the Bill & Melinda Gates Foun­da­tion’s pro­grammes “Rein­vent the Toi­let Chal­lenge” and the “Trans­for­ma­tive Tech­nolo­gies” and in­clude col­lab­o­ra­tion with lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional part­ner­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Two years ago, she was awarded a pres­ti­gious grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foun­da­tion for de­vel­op­ing stan­dard­ised meth­ods for char­ac­ter­is­ing fae­cal waste from non-sew­ered san­i­ta­tion sys­tems and leads a team of re­searchers based in Switzer­land, the Nether­lands and Thai­land.

Unathi Jack works for Emanti Man­age­ment based in Stel­len­bosch.

She holds a M Tech in Chem­i­cal En­gi­neer­ing from Penin­sula Tech­nikon.

Jack has been lead­ing a pro­gramme aimed at de­vel­op­ing plan­ning tools to man­age non-sew­ered sys­tems.

Us­ing a tool de­vel­oped by GiZ and the World Bank – known as the Exc­reta Flow Di­a­gram – she has been fa­cil­i­tat­ing the train­ing of san­i­ta­tion stake­hold­ers in de­vel­op­ing the san­i­ta­tion plan­ning for their area with fund­ing sup­port from the WRC.

Jack has con­trib­uted to the devel­op­ment of risk as­sess­ment tools and wa­ter ser­vices-re­lated guide­lines; as­sess­ment of drink­ing wa­ter and waste­water sys­tems; and anal­y­sis and in­ter­pre­ta­tion of wa­ter qual­ity data and waste­water ef­flu­ent qual­ity.

She also as­sists in con­duct­ing en­vi­ron­ment im­pact as­sess­ments and as­sist­ing clients to un­der­stand and im­ple­ment the rel­e­vant poli­cies, reg­u­la­tions and strate­gies.

Ler­ato Ma­galo has a B Tech de­gree in Civil En­gi­neer­ing from the Tsh­wane Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, a post grad­u­ate diploma in Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion ( PDBA) from the Gor­don In­sti­tute of Busi­ness Sci­ence (GIBS) and has com­pleted a Har­vard Lead­er­ship Pro­gramme.

At the Stan­dards Divi­sion of the South African Bu­reau of Stan­dards (SABS), she is the pro­gramme man­ager for En­gi­neer­ing & Built En­vi­ron­ment Stan­dards.

This port­fo­lio in­cludes the devel­op­ment of stan­dards in the built en­vi­ron­ment, as well as trans­porta­tion, au­to­mo­tive, me­chan­i­cal and min­ing stan­dards.

De­spite her wide port­fo­lio, Ler­ato still finds the time to serve as the head of del­e­ga­tion for SABS for ISO stan­dards devel­op­ment for in­no­va­tive san­i­ta­tion so­lu­tions that do not re­quire sew­ers.

Ma­galo pro­vides her ex­ten­sive en­gi­neer­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to en­sure that new san­i­ta­tion sys­tems meet lo­cal safety re­quire­ments.

Pillay is the san­i­ta­tion re­search man­ager at the Wa­ter Re­search Com­mis­sion.

Pic­ture: Cindy Waxa/African News Agency (ANA)

TEM­PO­RARY SO­LU­TION: Khayelit­sha res­i­dents still use por­ta­ble toi­lets. There are bril­liant women en­gi­neers who are com­ing up with so­lu­tions to the world’s san­i­ta­tion chal­lenges, says the writer.

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