New initiative aimed at developing climate-resilient sanitation for South African low-income communities

29th September 2023

By: Natasha Odendaal

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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The Water Research Commission (WRC) has concluded an agreement with the eThekwini metropolitan municipality and the City of Cape Town to develop sustainable, climate-resilient sanitation systems.

Climate-resilient sanitation refers to sanitation systems, services and behaviours which can survive, function or quickly recover in the face of a range of climate-related shocks, chronic stresses and seasonable variabilities.

The selected technologies, which have been manufactured locally and incubated by the WRC’s next-generation sanitation acceleration programme, South African Sanitation Technology Enterprise Programme (SASTEP), are being tested to offer full recycling of water, nutrients and energy.

The climate-resilient, appropriate blackwater and greywater technologies have been developed specifically for informal settlements and other sites outside the sewer reticulation coverage.

They are also designed to be modular, easily deployable to cater for disaster preparedness and responsiveness by local governments as they refurbish or replace infrastructure and services.

“Sanitation and climate change are closely interrelated. Climate change impacts on sanitation through the damage and disruption of sanitation facilities and services, dislocation of people and hampering treatment, owing to rising temperatures, interrupted sanitation services and intermittent power supply,” explains WRC executive manager: innovations Dr Valerie Naidoo.

Low-income communities are the most vulnerable to the climate-related impacts of disrupted sanitation systems, she highlights, noting that people in informal settlements often live in flood-prone areas and bear the brunt of extreme climatic events like floods, owing to displacement or a complete destruction of the limited sanitation facilities that they had.

“In times of drought, the lack of water availability results in waterborne systems being less effective as a sanitation system and low-income and social housing households are most hit.”

Recent climatic disasters, such as floods in KwaZulu-Natal and droughts in areas such as Cape Town, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo, have impacted on both water and sanitation systems.

“There have been instances where communities have had to resort to open defecation where emergency response has been slow or nonexistent, which can potentially result in further public health and pollution challenges,” says SASTEP programme manager Akin Akinsete.

“Through this partnership with the City of Cape Town and eThekwini, we wish to evaluate the technology against a climate resilience framework, with Bristol University as a partner.”

Should this initiative be successful and the desired outcomes achieved, a similar approach could be replicated in other metros and municipalities where urgent intervention is needed, Akinsete adds.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor



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