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TitleRethinking sanitation improvement for poor households in urban South Africa : paper presented at the IRC symposium ‘Sanitation for the Urban Poor: Partnerships and Governance’, 19 – 21 November 2008, Delft, the Netherlands
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsEales, K
Pagination23 p. : 7 fig.; boxes
Date Published2008-11-19
Place PublishedDelft, The Netherlands
Keywordsflush toilets, south africa, toilet flushing, wastewater

In South Africa, flush toilets have historically been associated with white privilege, and dry toilets with racial discrimination. The sector slogan ‘Sanitation is Dignity’ has deep resonance, and in urban areas, anything other than a flush toilet is regarded as inferior and at best an interim option. The emphasis ondignity, rights and aspirations has led to a focus on toilet technologies, rather than on integratedsanitation improvement. But rapid extension of reticulated water and sanitation infrastructure iscreating significant bulk infrastructure bottlenecks; the focus on meeting coverage and bucketeradication targets far bolder than the MDGs is compromising sound operation and maintenance, and there is widespread evidence of wastewater treatment failures which have severe consequences forhuman health and the natural resource base. In a context of growing water scarcity, safe-guarding waterquality is critical to ensure it remains fit for use.
This paper maps some challenges around service provision and sanitation improvement in urban SouthAfrica. It argues that a rights-based approach to providing water and sanitation is a hollow promise ifthe service is not sustainable and prone to failure; and that a shortage of skills to operate and managesewered systems is an even greater threat to sustainability than funding gaps. It is generally the poorestand most vulnerable who wait the longest for service improvements, and who are most risk when servicesfail. There are compelling reasons to pursue other approaches to sanitation improvement, but acomprehensive shift in approach is unlikely soon. In the interim, significant gains can be made byutilising two wastewater treatment technologies- decentralised wastewater treatment systems, andintegrated algal ponding systems - that are low cost, have low skills requirements, and a low risk offailure. They also have the potential to offer better services, to more people, more sustainably, sooner.Given the urgency of service improvements in a context of extremely high HIV and TB infection levels,South Africa does not have the luxury of plentiful time.

(authors abstract)

NotesIncludes references
Custom 172, 824




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