South Africa, Gates Foundation to ‘reinvent the toilet’

28 March 2014

South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have announced a partnership to find innovative sanitation solutions for rural and peri-urban communities.

Announcing the partnership on Monday, the department said it had committed R30-million to conducting field tests on technologies developed as part of the Gates Foundation’s global Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, with the foundation contributing US$1-million (R10.6-million) to support this testing.

This follows the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the department and the foundation at the second Reinvent the Toilet Fair in India last week.

Searching for ‘non-sewer’ solutions

The department said the aim was to fund the research, development and manufacturing of “alternative, non-sewer” sanitation solutions for South Africans without access to water-borne sanitation.

Sanitation in South Africa, particularly in rural and peri-urban areas, remains a huge challenge, with population growth counterbalancing the significant strides made to reduce the sanitation backlog since 1994.

“By applying creative thinking and innovative approaches to sanitation challenges, we can dramatically improve the health of women, children and communities,” said Chris Elias, president of the Gates Foundation’s global development programmes.

“We believe that the pairing of South Africa’s governmental leadership with new business models and innovative sanitation solutions will dramatically increase the progress that has already been made in tackling the global sanitation crisis.”

Global safe toilet backlog: 2.5-billion

According to the foundation, an estimated 2.5-billion people around the world do not have access to safe toilets. This is harmful to the health and wellbeing of children, undermines women’s and girls’ dignity and safety, and hinders economic development and growth.

In 2011, the foundation’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene programme initiated the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge to come up with toilets that remove germs and parasites from human waste, recover energy, clean water and fertiliser, operate “off the grid”, without connections to water and sewer systems or electrical lines – and cost less than US$0.05 cents per user per day.

The Department of Science and Technology has partnered with South Africa’s Water Research Commission to identify, develop and evaluate new technologies in the country.

“In terms of rural school sanitation, the technologies will be demonstrated in the Cofimvaba district in the Eastern Cape as part of the Technology for Rural Education Development project,” the department said. “The technologies will also be demonstrated in the 23 district municipalities that have been identified by the government as critical in terms of service delivery.”

SAinfo reporter