MPs hear of 'expensive' pit toilets

Makeshift toilets at a creche in Mathanga village in the Eastern Cape. (Gallo)

Makeshift toilets at a creche in Mathanga village in the Eastern Cape. (Gallo)

Building pit toilets in rural areas is an expensive and problem-plagued business, MPs heard on Tuesday.

According to figures tabled before Parliament's public services select committee, it has cost on average about R7 500 to build each of more than 35 000 so-called ventilated pit latrines (VIPs) in rural municipalities the past two financial years.

The total spent directly on building these VIPs during 2010/11 and 2011/12 was R267-million.

Briefing members, human settlements chief sanitation director Phillip Chauke said the countrywide sanitation backlog, in April last year, was just over 2.4-million households.

Noting that the backlog in 1994 had been more than five million households, he told members: "We have had remarkable progress."

According to a document tabled at the briefing – essentially a progress report on the provision of sanitation in terms of government's four-year, R1.2-billion Rural Household Infrastructure Programme (RHIP) – a total of 11 652 VIPs were installed in 2010/11.

A further 24 089 were installed last year (2011/12). The total RHIP budget allocated over this two-year period was R331.5-million, of which – according to Chauke – a total of about R267-million was spent "directly" on VIPs.

Up to 53 rural municipalities in seven provinces (not included in the programme are Gauteng and Western Cape municipalities) had benefited from the programme in the past financial year (2011/12).

Human settlements sanitation director Cyprian Mazubana told the committee that the department had selected municipalities deemed the "most needy" to be included in the programme.

The RHIP budget for the current (2012/13) financial year is R479.5 million. Chauke said the target number of rural VIP latrines to be built this year was 53 266, a figure one-and-a-half times more than the programme has achieved in total over the past two years.

The difference between a VIP and an ordinary pit latrine is the former includes a mesh-capped ventilation pipe to reduce odour and kill flies. Chauke said that among problems facing the programme was that the two "implementing agents" appointed to build the VIPs could neither cope with the scale of the programme, nor achieve the targets set.

The two agencies are the Independent Development Trust and the Mvula Trust. Chauke said that after negotiations with them the programme was now being opened up to other contractors.

According to the briefing document: "[The department] is currently in the process of allocating approximately 40% [of the] balance of the 2012/13 budget to tender for additional implementing agents to be added to the programme."

This amounts to about R200-million of the R479.5-million budget allocated for the year. Chauke said another problems was the inability of many of the municipalities involved to remove sludge and maintain the VIPs, which have an average five-to-eight year life span before they are full and unusable.

This was adding to the sanitation backlog problem. Further problems besetting the programme included difficulties in procuring building material, difficult ground conditions, and "excessive rainfall" in some areas, he said.

According to the national department – which assumed responsibility for sanitation from water affairs in November 2009 – there are 12.25-million "households" in South Africa spread across 68–000 "settlements". The bulk (87%) of these settlements are in rural areas, home to about 40% of the country's 50.6-million people. – Sapa

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