On Wednesday 7 February 2018, in Johannesburg, South Africa, the 1st African Portable Sanitation Conference took place.
This was only an idea some 5 month before, but thanks to the involvement of some dedicated people and their companies, this was the first step in, hopefully, a long list of initiatives and actions to support the development of the portable sanitation industry, in South Africa and on the whole continent. Not only as a key basic necessity provider, but a major supporter of general development, better health, dignity and overall living and working conditions.
More than 30 companies were present that day, the majority from the RSA but also from RDC and Zimbabwe.
Key note speakers with a solid background related to the industry presented different topics:
* Association work and standardization, what it can do for the portable sanitation industry
* Digitisation and vacuum technology
* Changing the image of the portable toilet industry
Everybody was encouraged to participate in the discussions, coffee breaks and lunch were great opportunities to meet peers and exchange ideas and experiences.
The portable sanitation industry has been present in South Africa for several decades now providing different types of services to construction, industry, mining, military, event and government. And it’s here that the challenges for portable sanitation are enormous with millions of people having no access to sewer connected sanitation and living in very populated areas, often called informal settlements. Via public tenders, authorities award contracts to supply portable toilets and the service, even for 1000 to
2000 units. Unfortunately, due to financial issues, the level of service is sometimes very poor and insufficient resulting in protests, for example the so called Poo Wars in the Cape. Some conservative estimates indicate that today some 75 to 80000 portable toilets are in use.
South Africa has a water constrained economy and the Cape provinces face a water crisis with recently a possible Day Zero for Cape Town making world news. Citizens, companies, organisations, authorities, etc … contacted actors in the portable sanitation industry, not knowing what to look for, in the hope to find guidance in handling huge toilet use issues in case of Day Zero. This proofs again that non- sewer connected temporary/portable sanitation can offer an excellent solution for using toilets without wasting millions of liters of water just flushing down the drain.
In the other countries of the African continent, the use and presence of portable sanitation is very limited. The needs and possibilities on the contrary are enormous. Not only in very populated cities without any form of sanitation, but also in camps in areas hit by forced migration, war and disasters. In the past years, we noticed that for unknown reasons, national and international aid organisations, do not really initiate the deployment of portable toilets with according services to provide better hygiene to limit or contain diseases and contamination. And always for the same reason, lack of funding.
The portable sanitation industry can play a pioneering role in the further humane and dignified development of the African continent. It’s amazing to see that major importance is giving to internet, infrastructure, industry and agriculture almost ignoring access to water and sanitation on the list of requirements for development and wellbeing of the population. Efforts to improve sanitation overall are too thinly spread and have to be more centralised. Local entrepreneurs with the support of their governments should be able to find funding to make portable sanitation available and this way improve the general standard of living.
In our opinion, proper sanitation is an important indicator of the overall level of development and deserves proper attention in the interest of all of us