PRG Uplifts Communities Through Sanitation Research

by Susan Mercer | Dec 03, 2016

The Pollution Research Group (PRG) in the School of Engineering at UKZN is making strides in community sanitation research, which has a reach extending as far as India.

The Group’s work is part of the global drive to provide sustainable sanitation to the 3.7 billion people currently unserved.

“Our prime goal is providing scientific data to others involved in the same endeavour,” said PRG Director Professor Chris Buckley, “comprising the whole supply chain from researchers, manufacturers, politicians, planners, engineers, bankers through to the ultimate beneficiary – the currently unserved people.” The PRG partners with eThekwini Municipality, and has moved through various phases of funding, with past and present funders including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), the eThekwini Municipality, the Water Research Commission (WRC), and the Bremen Overseas Research and Development Association (BORDA), among others.

These partners have assisted in expanding the reach and influence of the PRG, and staff and students provide vital intellectual input.  Its research is currently focused in three eThekwini Water and Sanitation (EWS) facilities, including the Newlands-Mashu
evaluation site.  In non-sewered communities, the PRG spends time measuring, asking questions, soliciting opinions and suggesting solutions, including aspects such as the safe emptying and treatment of the contents of pit latrines, the safe treatment of urine diversion toilets using black soldier flies, the measurement of odour within sanitation
systems for odour prevention, and the development of new sanitation systems for informal settlements.

The PRG is also part of an upcoming international Compendium of Sanitation and Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) Options in Emergencies, which will provide an internationally peer-reviewed, state-of-the-art and systematic overview of existing (and emerging) sanitation technologies and FSM options along the entire sanitation service chain for the different challenging situations that emergencies present. Partnership with EWS has provided grounding and opportunities to test hypotheses, as well as linking the PRG to other African municipalities, where their municipal/university model is being replicated. The EWS is considered the leading municipality in Africa with regard to innovation and water and sanitation services to the previously unserved, improving their service delivery through collaboration on research and development, capacity building and knowledge management in order to achieve growth and development in keeping with the Municipality’s Integrated Development Plan (IDP).

“The desired outcomes included a stronger economy, an improvement in the quality of life for all citizens and the development of a higher skills and technology base,” said EWS partner Mr Teddy Gounden. “The feedback from applied research has helped significantly to shape policy based on what’s happening on the ground.” This demonstrates the PRG’s approach to their work, which Buckley characterises using three statements:

•“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

•“Without data, it is just an opinion.”

•“Good science makes sound policy.”

You can also find this article on page 41 of the 2016 UKZN Community Outreach publication here.