water and sanitation

Conventional water supply sanitation and drainage infrastructure is not viable in a resource constrained and climate change affected future. This statement applies as much to low income as it does to high income neighbourhoods. These conventional infrastructure systems are highly conductive of water flows, and much electricity is used in the process of moving water over vast distances. Because low income communities currently have lower levels of infrastructure servicing there is an opportunity to reconfigure the technical systems so that the poor are not locked into unsustainable and expensive resource consumption patterns. We have an opportunity to make critical decisions to ensure that the investments in infrastructure upgrading can become a nucleus around which collective action can drive local economic development.

We have been working with residents from Enkanini, with Stellenbosch Municipality officials and technicians as well as private sector technology partners to conceptualise alternative sanitation solutions for Enkanini and other informal settlements in Stellenbosch and beyond. The sanitation systems which have emerged as potential strategies involve biological filtration of wastewater on site so that biogas may be harvested for use in household cooking and nutrient rich liquid fertiliser may be harvested for micro-agriculture.

In addition to researching optimal technical responses to sanitation, we have embarked on a mutual learning process with residents and the municipality to try to figure out new ways of governing these alternative technical systems. We think that if sanitation systems can be operated, maintained and repaired by local residents who are trained in the required skills to undertake these productive activities then (i) the systems are likely to function more continuously and effectively compared to current systems and (ii) the financial flows associated with these activities can be devolved to the local level, so  that subsidised sanitation capital becomes a productive asset for low income communities to operate the assets in perpetuity and in doing so stimulate local economic flows.

These pages document our trans-disciplinary research process in blog format. The pressures leading to and outcomes of inadequate sanitation are understood differently depending on who you ask. We hope to integrate alternative perspectives in order to develop a shared understanding of the challenge. This is a critical precursor to collaboratively defining alternative solutions.