The Water Research Commission (WRC) has warned that sanitation will come under greater pressure than the drinking water supply. This is amid climate changes and the greater demand on scarce water resources.

The commission and its partners have convened an international sanitation conference in Cape Town. This conference brings policymakers and experts in the field together.

It’s not a favourite topic of discussion and yet something that no one can live without. The management of human waste has not evolved much in the last 200 years.

Water-based disposal remains the norm and yet most people use a poorly managed system that is off the formal grid.

Globally, more than 4, 5 billion people lack access to sustainable sanitation services.

Conference chair Doulaye Kone says, “Every year, we have about 500 000 kids under 5 years dying; and this is very traumatic, because of pathogens from human waste. So, that, we can make better. The emphasis on technology is to say, if people are using a sanitation system that’s already off grid, how can we use the 21st century best technology?  Science that works? We don’t have to run for something that is necessarily a sewage system. We know this has limitation to expand in many communities. So, let’s use clever engineering – the best science in the world and make the off-grid sanitation system work for everyone.”

Most South Africans have water-borne sanitation while about 20% are on other systems, like dry disposal.

Researchers say sustainable innovative solutions are needed. Water Research Commission’s Jay Bhagwan says, “For a water-stressed country, we have to evolve away from this flushing concept to technology that is more robust, that we can treat. But we use the term beneficiate or valorise from the energy and carbon we generate from our bodies in a meaningful way. So, we believe at the Water Research Commission, we introduced this phrase. We say bringing sanity to sanitation environment – that we should move away from this water based conventional thinking.”

The conference ends on Friday.