Winning At Water

The Water Research Commission sets the standard for leadership, innovation and empowerment

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Water scarcity compels water institutions to excel in innovative thinking and display cutting-edge leadership that contributes to the African continent’s ability to address critical water challenges. 

Mr Dhesigen Naidoo, CEO of the Water Research Commission (WRC) has a leadership style that reflects precisely this, which is why he was the 2016 recipient of the prestigious Africa Water Leadership Award in an award ceremony held at Le Meridien Hotel, Mauritius, on 7 December 2016.

The Africa Leadership Awards honours achievers, super achievers and future business leaders and attracts the best of the best from Africa. Although the award is a highlight for the Water Research Commission, it is also a highlight for the continent of Africa.

Dhesigen’s award recognises him as one of those leaders who can steer their businesses through turbulent times while applying the best of business modules to manage and keep their missions afloat. The water sector in South Africa and Africa are proud of Dhesigen’s nomination to receive such a prestigious award.

The criteria for this nomination were the impact Mr Naidoo’s leadership has had on the lives of others within the water sector and the quality of the WRC’s research outputs as well as their global reach and ability to contribute to social change.

Mr Naidoo receives the award for outstanding leadership, management skills, professionalism and vision in leading his organisation to make a difference and achieve innovative results.

The WRC is one of 13 members of the Global Water Research Coalition (GWRC), which operates on a mandate of information sharing and collaboration to drive the water deficit down, leading to a surplus on a global scale. Naidoo believes strongly in the expansion of cross-border partnerships: “Phenomena like climate change have no respect for national boundaries; in fact, 60% of South African rivers are shared with our neighbouring countries.”

This point illustrates the need for global partnerships to eradicate the global water assurance challenges. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has, over the past few years, included water as one of the top risks for business. Naidoo sees this as a positive step in educating nations and their respective industries on their water footprint.

Pour Flush/ Low Flush toilet scoops SAB Foundation Social Innovation Seed Grant Award

The WRC's newly developed innovative toilet Pour/Low Flush Toilet was recognised by the SAB Foundation as one of the recipients of the Social Innovation Seed Grant Award Winners presented on 27 October 2016.

Dr Sudhir Pillay, the Research Manager responsible for sanitation-related projects at the WRC, received the award on behalf of the organisation.

Presenting the award, the Foundation selected the Pour Flush /Low Flush toilet as an innovation combining full flush toilet technology with the logistical advantages of on-site pit toilets, which do not need sewers or copious amounts of water for operation.

While presenting the awards, the SAB Foundation said, "There were over 600 submitted applications and 23 finalists across the Health, Disability, Education, Energy, Water and Sanitation and Livelihoods and Sustainable Agriculture sectors. It was no easy task for our final 12 judges to select the winners. Each and every idea received had the potential to change the lives of so many. But the winners demonstrated their ability to become commercial and scalable.”

The Pour Flush /Low Flush toilet is a new technology developed with funding from the WRC and aims to bridge this gap on the sanitation ladder while restoring dignity, privacy and safety to people who have been left behind in the drive towards basic services for all.

A significant step up the sanitation ladder from VIPs, a pour flush toilet is similar to a full flush toilet except that the water is poured in by the user rather than coming from a cistern. The system uses significantly less water —only 1-2 litres rather than the 5-7 litres needed for conventional flush toilets.

Some changes had to be made to the pour flush toilets usually used in Asia—for one, South Africans prefer to sit rather than squat, so a pedestal had to be provided. The toilets also had to be able to handle anal cleansing material, such as toilet paper or newspaper.

The WRC’s Pour Flush/Low Flush toilet is designed to be as simple as possible to avoid parts which can break or block. While looking very similar to a full flush toilet, there is no water tank, cistern, flusher or liquefier. Since there is no plumbing, no leaks are possible. The toilet is flushed by pouring one or two litres of water into the pan. The pan funnels steeply to a 70 mm-diameter outlet. Greywater can also be used for flushing.

The water seal works just like a regular flush toilet: water is trapped in the bend of the pipe sealing off any smell from the pit coming back up into the toilet. After the water seal, the pipe continues straight to a leach pit. A significant advantage over a VIP toilet is the fact that users cannot use the toilet as a rubbish pit, leaving the resultant sludge essentially free from general household solid waste.

Rather than a conventional sewerage system, the pour flush toilet block is attached to two leach pits. When one leach pit becomes full, then the pit is switched. The full pit is allowed to dry out normally over a period of two years and then emptied, ready to be used again once the operational pit reaches its capacity. The leach pits are fully offset from the structure, making them easier to access for maintenance. Studies indicate that the pits have a lifespan of around five years before they need to be emptied.

Pour Flush /Low Flush trials have been conducted in households and schools in KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape, and Eastern Cape. After extensive testing, the first two toilets were installed in Pietermaritzburg in 2010. They have been in operation since then without problems or blockages. Consequently, a further 20 household demonstration units were built as well as three toilets at a crèche.

According to Mr Jay Bhagwan, Executive Manager for Water Use and Waste Management at the WRC, all is working well. For the users of the technology it adequately addressed the wish for a flush toilet.

Moreover, the technology costs considerably less than installing a full-flush toilet connected to a sewer or a standard septic tank. In addition, it is not dependent on piped water supply, and can be used even if the water supply is cut off occasionally, as a small amount of water is required and greywater can be used. It is also less complicated than a VIP in terms of installation.

On 12 November 2016 the Department of Science and Technology, under the leadership of Minister Naledi Pandor, visited the Eastern Cape to launch the implementation of the toilets in Amathole District Municipality.

Water empowers women

In October the WRC hosted the launch of the Women Empowerment Programme (WEP) on behalf of the Department of Water and Sanitation. This ministerial flagship program is designed to achieve the empowerment of women through water use security, land use security and knowledge generation for improved household food security and sustainable rural livelihoods in selected areas of Limpopo, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu–Natal and North West provinces.

At the opening, WRC CEO Mr Dhesigen Naidoo explained that gender issues are now mentioned in most provincial, national and regional agricultural and food-security policy plans, but they are usually not taken seriously in some instances. However, women issues should be treated as an integral part of policy and programming. Many agricultural policy and project documents still fail to consider basic questions about the differences in the resources available to men and women, their roles and the constraints they face, and how these differences might be relevant to proposed interventions. As a result, it is often assumed that interventions in areas such as technology, infrastructure and market access have the same impacts on men and women, when in fact they might not.

Women’s access to productive resources, such as land, modern inputs, technology, education and financial services, is a critical determinant of agricultural productivity. Agriculture is important to women, but female farmers have less access to the productive resources and services required for agricultural production. Women are less likely than men to own land or livestock, adopt new technologies, use credit or other financial services, or receive education or agricultural extension advice. Besides the constraints highlighted above women bear the triple burden of reproductive work, productive work and community roles, and have limited time available to expand their agricultural interests. Recently the Water Research Commission completed three projects which focus on empowerment of women. All these three projects were conducted in different provinces across the country.

Results from these projects showed that at least 61% of the households are headed by females, although this varies between the villages in provinces. Culture and tradition still dominate over more contemporary views and the intra-household domain is a variously contested space where male family members strongly influence decision-making in most study sites such as Eastern Cape and Limpopo Provinces. In Limpopo Province, for example, it was found that women in all the study sites were poorly empowered in terms of time, leadership and also ownership of resources. The study conducted in North West Province found that rural women need to be offered opportunities to improve their numeracy and literacy levels since their low levels of education is a major hindrance to the acquisition of new skills.

The water protector

A sterling job in leading research that is protecting South Africa’s natural resources has finally paid off. WRC Manager, Mr Bonani Madikizela was recently recognised by South African environmental NGO WESSA, who presented him with an honorary lifetime achievement award at their 90th Anniversary celebration held in Skukuza, Kruger National Park.

The WESSA Award Ceremony on 17 September 2016, celebrated 90 years of the organisation’s existence under the WESSA motto ‘Caring for the Earth’.

Madikizela was amongst those selected for one of the 90 Lifetime Conservation Achiever Awards, a category which was introduced for the occasion and which provided a unique opportunity to acknowledge 90 living individuals who have dedicated their lives to conservation in South Africa.

The prestigious event paid special tribute to a wide range of outstanding environmental achievements. The Lifetime 90 Achievement Award presented to Madikizela was in recognition of his sterling work in fighting against the degradation of South Africa’s freshwater ecosystems and for the restoration of biodiversity in natural resources.

Madikizela has spent more than 20 years working with natural resources, focusing in particular on water resource quality and bio-monitoring with respect to inland freshwater ecosystems such as rivers, dams and wetlands. Madikizela is a research manager in the Water Resources unit at the WRC, and has previously worked at the Departments of Water Affairs and Environmental Affairs. As WRC research manager, Madikizela’s role includes prioritizing, supporting, and coordinating research done by a variety of organisations and independent consultants across South Africa.

Due to historic lack of attention to wetland health and biophysical integrity, Madikizela’s focus is currently biased towards wetlands and also includes river rehabilitation, with the intention to provide methods and guidelines that ensure sustainable utilisation of these resources, but without furthering biodiversity loss. This quest has led to interactions with experts in aquatic ecosystem research and development at national and international levels.

WRC CEO Mr Dhesigen Naidoo said, “We congratulate Madikizela for receiving such a prestigious award, which positions the WRC personnel as leaders in the applicability of research that is managed in a way that encourages exploratory and innovative investigations.”

While expressing his gratitude for the award, Madikizela said,” The 90 Lifetime Conservation Achiever Award means a lot in boosting one’s self esteem. Even more inspiring is to be recognised at the time when the country is in dire need of water specialists that need to be turning their heads around due to the ongoing water scarcity challenges facing South Africa.”

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