Sanitation challenges in rural areas: Avantu Sustainable Solutions; CSIR on built environment research impacts on human settlements
Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation
06 September 2012
Chairperson: Ms B Dambuza (ANC)
The Committee received a briefing from Avantu Sustainable Solutions on rural sanitation. The Committee was presented with a video which showed how Avantu used a chemical called “PitKing” in emptying full pit toilets and eliminating the smells from the toilets. The project made use of the youth as volunteers and showed how the improvement of sanitation could result in job creation. The use of PitKing eliminated smells within 24 hours got rid of all waterborne diseases, it emptied the pit toilet and maintenance was to be done only after a year. The South African Breweries (SAB) was going to sponsor the programme nationally.
Avantu proposed a process where harmless bacteria had been scientifically selected for their biological performance in the breaking down process of sewage and other organic waste. The bio-augmentation process adjusted the bacteria to remedy the problem as the problem was in the sewage itself. Avantu’s bio-augmentation process had been accepted by the Department of Water Affairs. The process conformed to international standards, it biodegrades solid sewerage in basic systems, it prevented the spreading of waterborne diseases and it rectified all forms of dams, lakes and rivers. Avantu presented to the Committee alternative sanitation methods such as the single and multiple-seat waste bio-recycling system, a waterless-waterborne toilet system, the multiple waste bio-recycling unit mould, a robust top structure for the waste bio-recycling system, the moving bed bio reactor, pyrolysis technology electricity from sewage sludge, used tyres and old plastic.
Members asked questions as to why Avantu had not been brought on board the government sanitation programme, the challenges Avantu was facing and the cost of the entire project. The Department of Human Settlements was asked to negotiate with Avantu on ways of improving the drive for better sanitation delivery.
The Committee also received a briefing from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research on built environment and innovative technologies for state subsidy housing. The brief comprised of a project background and context, the research question and methodology, the development of innovative building technologies, performance modeling and innovative technology assessment criteria. In pilot projects carried out in the Mdantsane and Kleimond municipalities, the CSIR demonstrated how and in what way it could innovate material, production and assembly technologies in science, engineering, and technology to be applied to construction manufacturing to improve building performance and construction processes and facilitate sustainable human settlements. The methodology used included investigations into technology options and requirements, determining the availability and suitability of options, performing financial feasibility for the options, preparing technical specifications and best practices, monitoring implementation and evaluating performance upon completion. In a performance modeling, it was noticed that the CSIR house used 35% less material resources input by weight than the subsidy house. There was a carbon dioxide reduction of 685kg and the CSIR house contributed less to water depletion than the subsidy house. The total load of energy for the CSIR house was 8.66gj as against 19.78gj for the conventional subsidy house.
In the discussion that followed, members investigated the possibility of designing traditional houses which appealed to the cultural needs of the people but were modern and attractive. The link between the CSIR and other government research institutions was looked into.
Meeting reportIntroduction by the Chairperson
The Chairperson welcomed Avantu Sustainable Solutions representatives. The presentation from Avantu was to focus on rural sanitation. The Committee was committed to collecting as much information as possible to assist with oversight on sanitation which was high on the agenda of the Committee. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) was also going to brief the Committee on innovative technology on building and housing development.
Avantu Sustainable Solutions briefing
The Committee was briefed by the founder of Avantu, Mr Lohmann Beams. The Committee was presented with a video which showed how Avantu used a chemical called “PitKing” in emptying full pit toilets and eliminating the smells from the toilets. The chemical which was designed by Mr Beams contained a blend of bacteria which decomposed the waste in the toilets and greatly improved the sanitation condition in rural areas. The bacteria accelerated the breaking down process in the toilets. The video showed a project in Ivory Park which was sponsored by the South African Breweries (SAB). Ivory Park had 60 000 full pit toilets and the municipality could not handle the situation. The project made use of the youth as volunteers and showed how the improvement of sanitation could result in job creation. The use of PitKing eliminated smells within 24 hours, got rid of all waterborne diseases, it emptied the pit toilet and maintenance was to be done only after a year. The SAB was going to sponsor the programme nationally.
The major problem with sanitation in South Africa was that there were over 12 million pit toilets and 4 million of them were full and inactive but every time it rained, the ground was contaminated and this led to many illnesses and deaths. The presentation was going to show new technologies which could be used to remedy the sanitation situation and clean up rivers and dams.
The Chairperson asked if the packets of the chemical used in Ivory Park were given free or were paid for.
Mr Beams replied that SAB funded the whole programme to show the municipalities how easy it was to handle the sanitation problem. The use of the chemical reduced the need for funding, equipment and personnel to drain toilets. With the use of the chemical, all the municipality had to do was hire the volunteers or any other community members and the sanitation problems would be solved at half the cost and with more efficiency. The key issue was the technology in the packets.
Ms D Dlakude (ANC) said that the chemical was good as it was confirmed by the members of the community who used it. How long did one packet work and how could the chemical be obtained?
Ms M Borman (ANC) asked what the cost of the chemical was.
Mr Beams replied that the chemical was used in about 18 countries in Africa and had been financed by the World Bank and the World Health Organisation.
The Committee was presented with a list of all the municipalities in the country broken down into categories of the numbers and status of toilets. Avantu had these details and it helped it in quickly tackling the issues of sanitation. The costs for the jobs done by Avantu were currently being funded by municipalities and applications were made to the Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) to fund the work. The Department of Trade and Industry had approved the product and the concept used by Avantu. The DTI was going to fund cooperatives that were going to do the roll out of the project and be appointed by the municipalities. Avantu had representatives in the various provinces. The chemical could not be retailed because of the scientific and safety rules around the product.
Sustainable rural sanitation
In a presentation to the Committee, Mr Beams motivated why there was the need for intervention in the sanitation sector. Both rural and urban areas had sanitation concerns and the presentation applied to all aspects of sanitation around the country. Mr Beams showed to the Committee the huge crisis and results of sewage problems in the Sebideng area, the Loch Vaal and Vaal Dam. There were threats of cholera and many other serious diseases. 97% of South Africa’s sewage works were not working properly and were polluting the water. In a technical illustration of how the Avantu bacteria blends worked, the Committee was given the example of Rietspruit where a crisis situation of blocked sewage was remedied. Some of the poor methods used by municipalities to remedy the sewage problem were exposed. These methods included the mechanical method, pumping into rivers, burying it, discharging into a ravine and burning. Municipalities paid full prices for sucking of sewage but only about 40% of it gets sucked.
Chemical and scientific bio-augmentation
Avantu proposed a process where harmless bacteria had been scientifically selected for their biological performance in the breaking down process of sewage and other organic waste. The bio-augmentation process adjusted the bacteria to remedy the problem as the problem was in the sewage itself. Avantu’s bio-augmentation process had been accepted by the Department of Water Affairs. The process conformed to international standards, it biodegrades solid sewerage in basic systems, it prevented the spreading of waterborne diseases and it rectified all forms of dams, lakes and rivers. Avantu had developed 20 different blends of bacteria for sanitation purposes. The Committee was presented with the technical and scientific capacities and performance of the chemicals. The process of how to use the chemicals and the efficiency of the product was displayed in a technical outline. 18 years of research and development had been put into the product and it was a tested and proven formula with successful testing in Sub-Saharan Africa. The use of the product was also displayed in industrial oxidation ponds and other areas where Avantu had successfully used its products.
Mr Beams presented to the Committee alternative sanitation methods such as the single and multiple-seat waste bio-recycling system, a waterless-waterborne toilet system, the multiple waste bio-recycling unit mould, a robust top structure for the waste bio-recycling system, the moving bed bio reactor, pyrolysis technology electricity from sewage sludge, used tyres and old plastic.
Direct Impact of uncontrolled sewage
The direct impacts included the facts that approximately 1 000 people died of waterborne diseases every day in South Africa. Twenty major dams in South Africa contained in excess of 60% recycled sewage. 87% of South Africa’s rivers were contaminated and the direct cost to the Department of Health was approximately R8 billion per annum. South Africa had approximately 5.2 million pit toilets in use and 4 million full pit toilets not being used but which were still contaminating the ground water. Approximately 1.2 million families had no toilet facilities in the country.
Training and job creation
The research, development and application of the Avantu technology and alternative sanitation methods provided employment and a career path to young people. The Energy Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) and the Local Government SETA had sponsored a training programme and skills program in basic sanitation practice and in basic sewage practice. The rectification of South Africa’s sewage problems could create as many as 500 000 empowerment opportunities and jobs. People with basic education from Grade 6 could be recruited and trained through levels 1 to 5 and could become water and sewerage engineers. Municipalities could improve their service delivery and millions of lives could be saved.
Results of presentation on rural sanitation
Mr Beams explained to the Committee that the objective of the presentation was to encourage rural sanitation and to show how South Africa could make a sustainable difference by pushing back the frontiers of poverty, rectifying the sewage problems, creating jobs, cleaning the contaminated rivers and dams, preventing waterborne disease spreading and reducing health risks and saving lives.
Ms M Borman (ANC) asked why Avantu had not been taken on board by the government to make use of the technology. In working on the different types of toilets, were there different types of bacteria which were needed? What was the cost per unit of the alternative waterless-waterborne toilet system? The DTI had approved funding for Avantu, was there any implementation? The members of the Committee needed to carry the information to other Committees where they served.
Ms D Dlakude (ANC) asked if Avantu had presented its solutions to municipalities and to the Department of Cooperative Governance as they were some of the institutions dealing with communities directly.
Ms J Sosibo (ANC) said that the technology presented by Avantu could actually take the way forward. If a pit toilet was full and water was introduced into it, was it not instead going to spill over?
Mr S Mokgalapa (DA) asked where Avantu had been all these years and was not noticed on the national scene. Were they being sidelined or were there any hindrances faced while trying to introduce the technology?
Ms A Mashishi (ANC) asked if for the training programmes for job creation, the requirement was a matric certificate.
Mr J Matshoba (ANC) said that there was the need to meet with the National Department and plan the way forward.
Mr Phillip Chauke, Chief Director in charge of Sanitation in the Department of Human Settlements, asked for an explanation of Avantu’s involvement in working with major dams in the country and why there was still the problem of green algae in the dams. How long the effect of the chemicals last in the dams and what was the average cost to rehabilitate a dam.
The Chairperson asked which Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) was Avantu using in its training programmes. What happened in the situation of toilets where the communities were forbidden from introducing any chemicals into the toilets? What was the overall cost of the project and the technology?
Mr Beams replied that Avantu training programmes were funded by the Local Government SETA but approved and controlled by the Energy SETA. The toilet referred to was a composting toilet and there were particular bacteria which were used in such situations. Avantu had dealt with hundreds of such toilets around the country. 20% of the toilets in Ivory Park were composting toilets.
Mr Beams said that he wanted to return to the question of why the government does not embrace his product and process. He claimed that in 1993 when the project was introduced to the CSIR, the officials of the CSIR asked for 5% of every packet of the product sold. He said that he had refused this offer and that, since then, the CSIR has been against Avantu claiming that the product did not work. Mr Beams claimed that the Department of Water Affairs approved of his product and that it had urged Provincial Departments to use it. He further claimed that, following high level consultations, he was granted R700 000 to train people across the country in the use of the product. Mr Beams noted, however, that this programme was unsuccessful as trainees either found the product too technical or were scared to use it (and many had turned up drunk to training sessions).
Mr Beams claimed that his company deals with 120 municipalities but that they only call when people start dying through water contamination and that the municipalities do not seem to be interested in preventative measures.
Mr Beams also stated that his company does not take bribes and cannot afford to offer them. He suggested that the reason why the government did not embrace the product and process was that it either did not care for the people or it did not understand the technology. He added that the use of consultants was reducing the use of initiative by municipalities and departments.
The DTI had approved the funding but they were not funding training and the raw materials. They were willing to fund equipment only. The DTI said that the law was going to be changed and as from September 2012, they were going to do full funding of raw materials, training and equipment.
The cost for running a chemical toilet was about R3 200 per year. The maintenance of pit toilets through sucking was R2100 per pit toilet each year. Using bio-agmentation, the first dose for a pit toilet was R300 and the maintenance was about R150 per year.
The Chairperson said that it was important for the Department of Human Settlements and Avantu to meet, negotiate and come up with the way forward. The government needed to make use of the best possible solutions to help the people of South Africa. The Chief Director, Mr Philip Chauke, was tasked to liaise with Avantu and map out a plan of action.
Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) briefing
The delegation from the CSIR was led by the Executive Director of the CSIR, Dr Cornelius Ruiters. The presentation from the CSIR was going to focus on the provision of state subsidized housing, sanitation and human settlements. The Committee was briefed by Mr Llewellyn van Wyk, a principal researcher at the CSIR. The brief comprised of a project background and context, the research question and methodology, the development of innovative building technologies, performance modeling and innovative technology assessment criteria. The need for sustainable human settlements was being considered in the context of the Millennium Development Goals.
Local Context and Housing Challenges
Forty per cent of households did not have refuse collected once a week. 14.5% of households lived in informal dwellings. 20%, 42% and 34% of households did not use electricity for lighting, heating and cooking respectively. 53% of households had no access to piped water inside the dwelling and 8% of households did not have access to any toilet facility. The Committee was also presented with the local situation of the use and abuse of significant resources such as materials, energy, water, land and timber.
Project Case Study
The CSIR was requested by the Department of Science and Technology to engage with two municipalities; Mdantsane and Kleinmond to see to what extent the CSIR could innovate on the performance of houses and through that contribute to sustainable human settlements. In Mdantsane a project of 500 poorly built houses was found.
Research Question and Methodology
The CSIR asked itself how and in what way could it innovate material, production and assembly technologies in science, engineering, and technology to be applied to construction manufacturing to improve building performance and construction processes and facilitate sustainable human settlements. The methodology used included investigations into technology options and requirements, determining the availability and suitability of options, performing financial feasibility for the options, preparing technical specifications and best practices, monitoring implementation and evaluating performance upon completion. The five house types used in the study included a default house, a suburban house, a CSIR house and two other types of houses. This was to establish what the technology was offering and at what cost. The houses were assessed in terms of the substructure, the superstructure, the roof assembly, finishes and services. The conventional subsidy house was compared to the CSIR-developed alternative house.
In a performance modeling, it was noticed that the CSIR house used 35% less material resources input by weight than the subsidy house. There was a carbon dioxide reduction of 685kg and the CSIR house contributed less to water depletion than the subsidy house. The total load of energy for the CSIR house was 8.66gj as against 19.78gj for the conventional subsidy house.
There had been the roll-out of 2 000 houses in Mdantsane and 411 houses in Kleimond.
Innovative Technology Checklist
In assessing the alternative houses, the major aspects which were checked included whether it: improved quality of life, reduced demand on municipal services, reduced raw material consumption, created technology platform, facilitated later expansion, facilitated job creation, reduced construction time, was cost effective and resulted in improved construction quality.
After the projects, the key findings of the CSIR were as follows:
▪ Innovative technology could make a significant contribution to sustainable human settlements;
▪ Innovative technologies had to be applied as a whole system and not just a walling system;
▪ There was no one-size-fits-all as applied technologies had to be appropriate to the local context;
▪ Innovative technologies started with good designs including township layouts and site orientations;
▪ Innovative technologies did not have to be at the expense of job creation;
▪ They could kick start new entrepreneurship; and
▪ New institutional arrangements were needed to enable innovative technologies to become mainstream.
Mr Van Wyk told the Committee that the development and application of innovative technologies could demonstrably improve quality of life, contribute to sustainable human settlements and assist the government in meeting national imperatives at no or relatively low additional costs.
Dr Cornelius Ruiters briefed the Committee on the guidelines for human settlement planning and design which was called the Red Book. The Committee was also presented an outline of the Sanitation Technology Demonstration Centre known as the SanTech Centre. The 2009 Human Settlements Investment Potential Atlas was explained to the Committee.
On the critical shortage of engineers, Dr Ruiters told the Committee that there was the need to respond to the skills crisis. The challenge was that there was acute shortage of skills in the engineering, financial, technical and artisan sectors. There was the continual drain of skills from the public sector which was made worse by the large numbers of public institutions and government departments including municipalities which required skilled staff. The recommendation of the CSIR was the review of the designation of municipalities as water service providers and the potential for creating regional water service providers had to be considered with a focus on the poor water service provision. It was important for a review of the Municipal Finance Management Act to be discussed with the National Treasury regarding bringing in greater private sector capacity for management and delivery of services.
Mr Mokgalapa said that the presentation was good and it was an indication that the CSIR was “thinking out of the box”. It was important to ensure that the alternative technology was receptive to South Africans. How could alternative energy be used to encourage the People’s Housing Project (PHP)?
Mr Borman asked why the government was beating around the bush with housing when there was very good technology available. The information by the CSIR was very good and should be used for action. Did the innovative technology mean that there was no longer going to be maintenance by municipalities?
The Chairperson asked if the Department of Human Settlements (DHS) was using the 2009 Human Settlements Investment Potential Atlas.
Mr Philip Chauke replied that the DHS was using both the Atlas and the Red Book. The Red Book was developed in collaboration with the planning unit of the DHS and the Atlas was used extensively.
The Chairperson said that the DHS should brief the Committee at a later stage on the use of the Red Book and the whole issue of policy development on beneficiary management. There were challenges in the DHS with regards to policy and the CSIR as a government research institute was going to be of help.
Mr Chauke said that the DHS was developing Memoranda of Understanding with the research institutes of government and the DHS had a long standing relationship with the CSIR.
The Chairperson said that the CSIR needed to design a traditional house which met the local and cultural needs of the local people. There was the need to move away from the conventional houses to modernised yet traditional houses.
Dr Ruiters replied that the traditionally designed houses were under research but the people preferred modern houses when given the option. The CSIR was going to continue looking at the options.
Mr Van Wyk said that the CSIR was a research institute and not the housing development agency.
The meeting was adjourned.
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