South Africa: wastewater is a resource

South Africa faces chronic water shortages, yet billions of litres are flushed away every year. Being one of the driest countries in the world, the conservation of water resources and managing wastewater should be a top priority for government. [According to] the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) [...] water shortage is a genuine threat as 98 percent of the country’s water resources are already fully utilised. [...] WWF estimates that by the year 2025 South Africa will have a water deficit of 1.7 percent.

[...] One of the ways to protect and conserve water is to focus on the recycling of waste water, according to water experts gathered in Cape Town for a water seminar in May [2009]. The event was attended by water experts from Europe and South Africa and formed part of an economic and political mission of the Dutch governmental delegation comprising of minister of Development Cooperation Bert Koenders and deputy minister of Foreign Trade Frank Heemskerk.

“We should change our mindsets about wastewater,” said Brendon Meulman, project manager at Landustrie, a Dutch company that specialises in wastewater management. “We should stop seeing it as waste and a burden, but rather as a resource”.

“Toilet water for instance, is rich in organic material,” he explained. “If the concentration of this so-called black water is high enough, you can create energy out of this organic material. You can also turn it into compost and fertiliser.”

[...] Apart from reducing the amount of wastewater and waste, the system does not require water to flush excrement. Similar systems are already in operation in South Africa, for instance in Durban were thousands of dry toilets have been installed. “We work with so-called vacuum toilets that are already used on cruise ships,” he told IPS. “”According to our calculations, a vacuum toilet saves 36 litres of water per person per day,” said Meulman. “That is over 25 percent of your daily total water consumption.”

According to Meulman, this technology is not applicable only in high-income countries. “We have developed a low tech version which is specifically meant to service informal settlements and squatter camps,” he explained. “It is a self-contained system that is not dependent on energy sources. It basically comprises of a container that is equipped with toilets and urinals, which are vandalism proof, hygienic and clean.”

[...] The chances of the vacuum toilet system solving South Africa’s water problems are slim, as government figures show that domestic consumption accounts for just 12 percent of all water used in South Africa. Industry, mining, and power generation together consume another 12.5 percent and agricultural irrigation accounts for around 52 percent the country’s water use.

[...] Koenders emphasised that it is not only toilet water that needs to be looked at. “The country’s water problems are further impacted by the fact that mines are contaminating rivers and other water bodies,” he told IPS.

[...] The problems mentioned by Koenders were key focal points of a 2008 report presented by South Africa’s National Nuclear Regulator. The publication predicted serious problems with the country’s water supply, including radioactive pollution and waste dumping. It also suggested that wastewater from mines was seeping into the country’s groundwater.

The water and forestry department however, denied a looming water crisis. In a statement, forestry and water affairs minister Lindiwe Hendricks said that South Africa’s drinking water quality was rated among the best in the world. [...] “Indeed, due to mining and other human activities, the water quality is affected in some parts of the country,” Marius Keet, Director of Water Quality Management of Forestry and Water Affairs of the Gauteng province, said. “But it is not a crisis. It is a challenge, that needs to be addressed.”

Source: Miriam Mannak, IPS, 08 Jun 2009

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2 responses to “South Africa: wastewater is a resource

  1. Where can we get more information about the toilets in this article?

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