New in­no­va­tive toi­lets needed to tackle san­i­ta­tion chal­lenge

To­day marks World Toi­let Day and is a re­minder of the lack of san­i­ta­tion glob­ally

Pretoria News - - OPINION - DR SUD­HIR PIL­LAY AND AKIN AKINSETE Pil­lay and Akinsete work for the Wa­ter Re­search Com­mis­sion

TO­DAY, the world marks World Toi­let Day. There are many rea­sons to cel­e­brate a hy­gienic toi­let, chief among them is that it serves as one of the most im­por­tant med­i­cal de­vices in a house along with clean wa­ter sup­ply.

Toi­lets pro­vide an im­por­tant med­i­cal func­tion by sep­a­rat­ing users from fae­cal ma­te­rial which can be the source of many wa­ter-borne ill­nesses, in­clud­ing cholera and di­ar­rhoea and soil-trans­mit­ted dis­eases, such as in­testi­nal worms. The lack of hy­gienic toi­let fa­cil­i­ties has detri­men­tal con­se­quences to hu­mans.

The World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion es­ti­mates that in­ad­e­quate san­i­ta­tion causes 432 000 di­ar­rhoea deaths, with mainly young chil­dren sus­cep­ti­ble.

The lack of san­i­ta­tion also con­trib­utes to mal­nu­tri­tion, lost ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties and is as­so­ci­ated with a lack of dig­nity.

The knock-on ef­fects on a coun­try can be sig­nif­i­cant, it was es­ti­mated poor san­i­ta­tion cost the global econ­omy around R3 tril­lion mainly through mor­tal­ity, loss of pro­duc­tiv­ity, bur­den on health­care for pre­ventable dis­eases and the time used for lo­cat­ing a toi­let.

De­spite the many so­ci­etal ben­e­fits of pro­vid­ing hy­gienic san­i­ta­tion, there are ap­prox­i­mately 2 bil­lion peo­ple that still do not have ba­sic san­i­ta­tion fa­cil­i­ties with nearly 700 mil­lion peo­ple around the world that have to re­lieve them­selves in bushes, in wa­ter and in the streets.

This is eye-open­ing con­sid­er­ing a hy­gienic toi­let is one of your home’s most im­por­tant med­i­cal de­vices, yet for many there is ev­i­dence sug­gest­ing that some have no such op­tion.

World Toi­let Day serves as in­spi­ra­tion for the world to tackle the global san­i­ta­tion chal­lenge.

The theme for World Toi­let 2019 is “Leav­ing no one be­hind” and is linked to Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals, specif­i­cally Target 6, which is to elim­i­nate defe­cat­ing in the open and to en­sure that ev­ery­one has ac­cess to sus­tain­able ser­vices by 2030.

It has been 50 years since the first manned Apollo 11 mis­sion to the moon and nu­mer­ous hu­man tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances since then. Yet, as a global com­mu­nity, we have not fig­ured out how to achieve univer­sal san­i­ta­tion ac­cess, one of hu­man be­ings most ba­sic needs.

Why do we strug­gle and what are the chal­lenges – de­spite the nu­mer­ous ben­e­fits as­so­ci­ated with san­i­ta­tion pro­vi­sion?

There are many rea­sons, but these are symp­toms of a lack of tech­ni­cal op­tions in the way we pro­vide toi­let fa­cil­i­ties, which is lim­ited to two ex­treme con­straints: full flush linked to sew­ers and dry san­i­ta­tion in the form of la­trines.

Full-flush toi­lets con­nected to sew­ers are mainly found in ur­banised ar­eas within South Africa. It may be star­tling to know but the ba­sic de­sign of the flush toi­let has not changed con­sid­er­ably since the late 1700s.

The S-shaped pipe that you find at the bot­tom of the toi­let and con­nected to the wall of your home is the same de­sign that has been used since the 1700s.

The wa­ter in­side the toi­let bowl of your flush toi­let serves as an odour trap while the flush­ing wa­ter is used as a trans­port medium to re­move the fae­cal waste into sewer sys­tems.

There has been lit­tle in­no­va­tion in toi­let de­sign for over a 100 years.

In ur­ban South African homes, around 6 to 9 litres of potable wa­ter – wa­ter that is per­fectly safe for hu­man con­sump­tion – is used to do this.

Glob­ally this strat­egy has re­sulted in a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion of wa­ter­borne ill­nesses.

But in South Africa, which ex­pe­ri­ences un­even rain­fall dis­tri­bu­tion and wa­ter stress in var­i­ous parts of the coun­try, this ap­proach may not be vi­able in the long-term. At the mo­ment, many parts of the coun­try are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing heat­wave con­di­tions and there is con­cern over wa­ter sup­ply.

Wa­ter util­i­ties re­quested that res­i­dents use wa­ter more spar­ingly as wa­ter con­sump­tion in­creased dur­ing the heat­wave con­di­tions.

Herein ex­ists an op­por­tu­nity to re­duce or re­cy­cle wa­ter for flush­ing.

Toi­let flush­ing con­trib­utes to around 30% of house­hold wa­ter use. It seems il­log­i­cal that we could use clean drink­able wa­ter, which is of lim­ited sup­ply, to flush our urine and fae­ces.

Would peo­ple use 6 to 9 litres of cooldrink or fruit juice to flush their fae­cal waste? It can be as­sured that the an­swer would prob­a­bly be no and prob­a­bly in­di­cates how lit­tle we con­sider the value of wa­ter – un­til we have lit­tle or none.

It is an­tic­i­pated that with high ur­ban­i­sa­tion trends and pop­u­la­tion growth, more peo­ple will de­sire to be con­nected to the sewer sys­tem, re­sult­ing in more potable wa­ter flush­ing and in­creas­ing pol­lu­tion load vol­umes to be treated.

One of the main rea­sons why South Africa can­not im­ple­ment sew­ers through­out the coun­try is that the tech­ni­cal op­tion is costly; South Africa is wa­ter-stressed and can­not af­ford to flush away potable wa­ter; sewer lay­ing is a time-con­sum­ing and costly ex­er­cise and sewer-based treat­ment sys­tems are sig­nif­i­cantly more ex­pen­sive to op­er­ate, main­tain and im­ple­ment than other op­tions. If wa­ter-based sewer sys­tems are costly, what are the other op­tions avail­able?

On the op­po­site side of the tech­ni­cal spec­trum are on-site san­i­ta­tion sys­tems. These sys­tems do not need to be con­nected to a sewer and com­mon out­side ur­ban cen­tres. Sep­tic tanks are con­sid­ered as an on-site san­i­ta­tion sys­tem, but by far the most com­mon sys­tem used in ru­ral and peri-ur­ban set­tle­ments are la­trines – also com­monly called “long drops”.

As the name sug­gest, fae­cal waste “drops” into a hole in the ground.

The best at­tribute of the tech­nol­ogy is that is does not re­quire wa­ter to func­tion thereby sav­ing wa­ter and the need for sewer pipes. This de­sign was a tem­po­rary solution and is dif­fi­cult to man­age as the num­ber of users is highly vari­able, the toi­lets can fill quickly and re­quires emp­ty­ing.

The cost as­so­ci­ated with the dis­posal of vis­cous, sticky paste called fae­cal sludge can be sig­nif­i­cant.

With lim­ited op­tions avail­able, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have lit­tle choice but to im­ple­ment costly so­lu­tions which are not sus­tain­able over the long-term.

Clearly there is a need for new and in­no­va­tive toi­lets that close the gap be­tween as­pi­ra­tional flush-styled toi­lets and rudi­men­tary pit la­trine toi­lets which do need sew­ers and save wa­ter while not re­quir­ing any sludge han­dling and dis­posal. South Africa, much like the rest of the world, can­not af­ford to leave any­body be­hind.

| Reuters

A LABOURER works on a toi­let bowl at a ce­ramic fac­tory in He­bei province, China. There has been lit­tle in­no­va­tion in toi­let de­sign for more than 100 years, says the writer.

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