Disrupting the sanitation space through collaboration | Infrastructure news

No single entity–whether the Department of Water and Sanitation or a research institution such as the Water Research Commission– can attain SDG 6.2 in isolation. It is with this collaborative approach in mind that the South African Sanitation Technology Enterprise Programme (SASTEP) was established.

Founded in 2014 by the Water Research Commission (WRC), SASTEP is an initiative funded by the Department of Science and Innovation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). The programme is also supported by the Department of Water and Sanitation.

SASTEP was set up three years after the BMGF initiated the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge to spur the creation of new toilet technologies that safely and effectively manage human waste. The initiative culminated in a 2018 expo in China, where product announcements and funding commitments were aimed at accelerating the adoption of innovative, non-sewered sanitation technologies in developing regions around the world.

“Initially, SASTEP was only focused on finding and then evaluating sanitation technologies that can address sanitation challenges in South Africa. We wanted to increase the number of technologies in the sanitation toolbox. After the expo in China, SASTEP was completely redesigned to broaden its scope beyond mere sanitation technology testing to actively stimulating a new and emerging sanitation industry,” says Akin Akinsete, programme manager, SASTEP.

Sanitation economy

SASTEP created a platform that connects various key stakeholders within the sanitation value chain. The programme works with entrepreneurs, manufacturers, technology developers, communities that benefit from sanitation, the buyers of sanitation products (typically municipalities), as well as the researchers and academics that know and understand the sanitation challenges, barriers, and solutions.

“Through collaboration, SASTEP aims to provide everyone in South Africa with access to dignified sanitation that minimises pollution, beneficiates wastes and promotes health, safety, and water security. If there is a viable technology from another country, SASTEP will find a South African company that has the requisite skill to develop that technology locally. Often, some of the aspects of the technology have to be re-engineered to suit local conditions, like intermittent power supply, the need for robustness, and the availability of local materials and technical skills,” adds Akinsete.

While technology plays a significant role in creating new sanitation markets, it must be part of a larger ecosystem. This is why SASTEP has expanded its scope to include policy, pricing, climate change, the circular economy, standards and certification, behavioural change and social aspects of sanitation, sludge management, as well as public and private partnerships. A heavy focus is placed on the operations and maintenance of the technologies.

“Spare parts and skills must be readily available to assist with the upkeep of these sanitation systems. Often, local authorities will give preference to the ventilated improved pit (VIP) latrine despite the low user acceptance in communities. This is because VIP toilets have no moving parts and very little maintenance is required. However, when VIP toilets fail, people revert to open defecation and sometimes there are even more devasting consequences like children dying in a pit of sewage,” explains Akinsete.

SANS 30500

There is a dearth of standards that cater to the safety and performance of water and sanitation products. Current accreditation processes focus mainly on assessing, testing and certifying the materials used in construction. This has led to the proliferation of substandard sanitation products and systems. The ISO 30500 standard for non-sewered sanitation systems (NSSS) is a game changer. It has been written into SANS 10400 and the national building regulations.

“Due to the high level of South African representation on the international panel that supported the creation of ISO 30500, we were one of the first countries in the world to identically adopt the standard as SANS 30500 in 2019. However, setting up a certification scheme has remained a challenge,” says Akinsete.

This is due to the stringent requirements of the standard as well as the costs associated with testing. Moreover, laboratories that would be responsible for testing need to be SANAS 17025 accredited. It is expensive to get accredited and maintain that accreditation. From a capacity point of view, laboratories that are SANAS accredited do not typically have capacity for testing NSSS and currently do not see the business case, as there is currently very little demand. On the other hand, laboratories that have capacity to measure most of the parameters required for NSSS testing reside at universities and research institutions, and are not SANAS accredited. Accredited laboratories are reluctant to take on faecal samples because their core businesses often focus on testing related to the food and health industries; substantial investment would be needed to set up dedicated labs for faecal and sanitation effluent testing. This is a stumbling block when developing a certification scheme.

“To overcome this problem, SASTEP aims to build a certification scheme inclusive of local testing, laboratory readiness, and a certification mark. This project seeks to develop a cost-efficient and functional certification/accreditation process for SANS 30500 that will enable innovators and manufacturers to develop quality products in accordance with the standard,” explains Akinsete.

Selection guide for sanitation

A ‘one size fits all’ sanitation solution does not exist. Therefore, the WRC has developed a suite of tools to improve the understanding of sanitation systems in general and support decision-makers who, in many cases, have limited capacity and time. The tools aim to empower municipalities, water services authorities, and water service providers to deploy sanitation solutions that are contextually appropriate, including alternative and traditional approaches. These include:

  • selecting sanitation systems
  • Sani Select decision-support tool
  • writing a sanitation policy
  • procurement processes for alternative sanitation systems
  • advocating for alternative sanitation systems.
Additional work is being done on incorporating climate resilience and adaptation into a municipal sanitation toolbox. “During April last year, floods in KwaZulu-Natal damaged wastewater treatment plants and washed away many chemical toilets, leaving informal settlements without sanitation. NSSS can definitely play a larger role in such instances,” explains Akinsete.

SASTEPS’s work has begun to bear fruit, with promising partnerships developed with entities like the Department of Basic Education (DBE), where next-generation sanitation technologies have been included in their Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) initiative.

Following eight successful pilot projects at various schools, the DBE has procured NSSS technologies for 10 schools in the Eastern Cape. Furthermore, memoranda of agreement has also been signed between SASTEP, eThekwini Municipality, Johannesburg Water and, more recently, the City of Cape Town, to pilot these next-generation sanitation technologies in informal settlements and demonstrate their capacity to build a climate-resilient and adaptive sanitation toolbox.

It is hoped that, through these partnerships, the promise of energy- and resource-efficient, safely managed sanitation service delivery will soon become a reality for every South African and bring us closer to achieving SDG 6.

View article here: https://issuu.com/infrastructurenews/docs/wasa_septoct_2023?fr=xKAE9_zU1NQ

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