Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and WRC collaborate for improved sanitation in Africa

Pit Toilet

The Water Research Commission (WRC) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) have recently launched the Sanitation Research Fund for Africa (SRFA).

The fund is a response to a gap identified in dedicated sources of funding and support for sanitation research and innovation in Africa. This fund has been established to stimulate competency and capacity in the area of sanitation in the African region, in order to support the development and scaling up of sanitation solutions.

The WRC will host the first SRFA workshop, to be held on Thursday 30 and Friday 31 January 2014 at Emperor’s Palace, Johannesburg, which will see the participation of 8 sub-Saharan countries that have been selected for the SRFA Project.

The fund to the value of USD 2.5 million was established at the WRC in 2013 with the support of the BMGF. The SFRA is being led and executed by the WRC. The SRFA project is based on recent experiences from South Africa and the region, where scaling up of dry sanitation systems as a basic minimum acceptable level of service has begun to indicate many operational and maintenance challenges.

With many VIP (ventilated improved latrine) units implemented to date, the eThekwini Municipality was the first to highlight these issues, with around 30 000 VIPs which were filling up or nearly full. The removal and transportation of the pit sludges was shown to be challenging and difficult as many of these toilets were located in dense settlements, in hilly terrain and with limited road access. To add to the challenge, the safe disposal of VIP sludge was also problematic – municipal landfills were not recommended and the introduction of highly concentrated pit sludges into the wastewater treatment network compromised the treatment process. This problem is not only confined to South Africa – many other countries where there has been an upscaling of dry sanitation technologies are experiencing similar challenges.
According to Mr Jay Bhagwan, WRC Executive Manager for Water Use and Waste Management, the initiative aims to stimulate local capacity to provide local solutions to challenges. The project encourages partnering with local government and the participation of students studying towards Masters and PhD degrees which has been identified as an advantage.

Sudhir Pillay, WRC SFRA Manager says, ”While significant interest and investment are being afforded to close the MDG gaps in many developing countries, most of the focus is on coverage and new infrastructure, with very little attention afforded to what already exists on the ground and issues of long-term sustainability. While sustainability issues already hamper small-scale applications throughout sub-Saharan Africa, the up-scaling of dry sanitation will face many challenges and, inevitably, unintended consequences both in rural and urban areas”.

Mr Bhagwan further explains, “There is a clear need that, when scaling up dry sanitation programs, these programmes provide the necessary attention to operation and maintenance, institutional support, communication and support to users. Current programmes often do not address these issues. This neglect, if continued, will increase backlogs and will make future challenges more complex”.

The SRFA project thus provides a unique opportunity for a locally driven initiative to generate local sanitation solutions.

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