Water Research Commission launches new programme



The Water Research Commission (WRC) has launched a sanitation programme to drive the development and commercialisation of “water-smart” reinvented toilets in South Africa, through its South African Sanitation Technology Enterprise Programme (Sastep). The initiative is funded through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the department of science and technology, and is supported by South African Local Government, Office of The Presidency through the Sanitation Appropriate for Schools Programme, and the department of human settlements, water and sanitation.

Reinvented toilet technologies use internal treatment systems to process human waste and kill the pathogens that make people sick, meeting global safety and performance requirements — all without connections to sewers or water supply. The new initiative will match South African companies and investors to a global portfolio of off-grid sanitation technologies to develop, pilot, localise and bring to market systems for local communities, schools and rural and peri-urban households.

Sastep will also strengthen the manufacturing and service delivery base required to support the development and scaling of the reinvented toilet in South Africa. To demonstrate the potential of the reinvented toilet as a sustainable solution to national sanitation challenges, the initiative will work with local communities to pilot proven and emerging technologies alongside the business and service models used to maintain the systems. Local innovations that fit the criteria and are designed to meet the new SABS 30500 standard for non-sewered sanitation systems could also join the programme for further support and evaluation. Through innovation and smart chain supply, universal access can be achieved sustainably and linked to water security and business opportunities. The lessons learnt on this platform will be translated into a “pan-African offering” for further engagement and dissemination.

In 2015, the then Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, issued a clarion call that “its not all about flushing”. This was a call and recognition for transformation and disruptive solutions. In 2018, in response to challenges in school sanitation, President Ramaphosa highlighted and recommended the introduction of new innovative solutions to the school sanitation system, which led to the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (Safe) initiative. Innovative, non-sewered sanitation solutions, like the reinvented toilet, show promise as a way to transform the quality and prevalence of safe, dignified sanitation for children in schools, informal settlements and other communities where safe sanitation is scarce.

Sastep will partner with the Safe initiative as an early adopter platform and build from the success of its programmes. It will build consumer (community) testing, operation and maintenance services, technology readiness testing and gender intentionality into its implementation guidelines to advise future schools sanitation policy.

Sastep’s reinvented toilet initiative will be developed and implemented in partnership with public sector leaders, including the department of trade and industry, public investment teams in the Industrial Development Corporation, the Development Bank of South Africa and Public Investment Corporation, academic partners at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and testbed partners such as the City of eThekwini, the department of basic education, as well as private sector supply chain and investment partners. South Africa is ready to take on the challenge of creating a new industry that provides dignified solutions for its people while creating more businesses and jobs.

The medium-term view is to build an industrial platform that attracts private sector investment and disrupts the current technology trajectory of the sanitation industry through affordable innovative technologies, service delivery and entrepreneurship models. The robustness of “Reinvent the Toilets” technologies (RTT) will be tested in multiple field environments by matchmaking South African commercial partners with public sector testbed partners, thereby driving stronger business cases for localisation and industrial development.

According to the WRC’s chief executive Dhesigen Naidoo: “New revolutionary sanitation is not only our best chance to fully meet the SDG of universal access to safe and improved sanitation — it is also a great opportunity to develop sunrise industries and stimulate a new category of industrialisation and a new generation of entrepreneurs. We are aware of the massive challenge in disrupting current VIP toilet options and service norms, but are excited that we have the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and various South African institutions and departments as strategic partners on this journey.”

“We are honoured to partner with WRC and the government of South Africa on this ground-breaking initiative,” said Dr Doulaye Kone, deputy director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene programme. “The expansion of non-sewered sanitation solutions, such as the reinvented toilet, could dramatically reduce the human and economic toll of unsafe sanitation in South Africa, by making existing sanitation systems safer, and building new, sustainable approaches that protect people from disease, for generations to come.”

About the WRC

The Water Research Commission operates in terms of the Water Research Act (Act 34 of 1971) and its mandate is to support water research and development as well as the building of a sustainable water research capacity in South Africa. The WRC serves as the country’s water-centred knowledge hub, leading the creation, dissemination, technology transfer, and application of water-centred knowledge, focusing on water resource management, water-linked ecosystems, water use and waste management, and water utilisation in agriculture.

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