In the past few months Eva IJzermans, student water management at the University of Applied Science Rotterdam, has done her graduation internship at eThekwini Water and Sanitation in South Africa. Her research assignment was part of a living lab under the Orange Knowledge Programme: Bridging the Water.
The municipality of eThekwini is challenged with the major task of enlarging their sewage system to include informal settlements. With my knowledge on Water management and Urban environmental sciences I hoped to contribute to this challenge. My research was set out to find the answer to the main question: How can the eThekwini Water and Sanitation unit expand the sewage system in a resilient way to include current and future (in)formal settlements in the municipality of eThekwini?
During my research I looked at the relationship between water quality and wastewater effluent as well as population size and infrastructure. To address wastewater challenges in informal settlements, data generation is key. When thinking about building new sanitation infrastructure, possible data collection should be a requirement.
It is concluded that local, small (under 2 ML/d) decentralized treatment systems are most suitable in informal settlements because they are easy to adapt to different situations. Besides implementation of these treatment systems, the municipality must implement a maintenance plan. Participation of the local community is essential to create a safe sanitation environment. By improving the current situation, the Human Rights of these citizens can be and the quality of life in informal settlements can be improved.
In the past months, working with a Dutch background on a South African project has taught me a lot. Finding solutions for a problem in a different environment than I am familiar with, has forced me to step out of my comfort zone and to think ‘out-of-the-box’. I realized I first needed to learn about the local context in eThekwini, Durban. Also, I learned about downsides of Dutch designs when implementing them in a different context abroad. For example, a system can be different (including just wastewater instead of waste- and storm water) or that creating jobs can be more favorable than collecting and processing wastewater automatically. I also learned it is important to take social aspects into account, even when the research assignment has a technical focus. I have experienced that knowledge is shared both ways. Constructed safety points to ensure the richness of the water in a sewage system, a smart communal collection system, a local-government discussion, long distances piping for a small group of people, and much more are challenges in both counties full of knowledge. Sharing is the start of finding solutions.
Bridging the Water is part of the Orange Knowledge Programme.