Use and Acceptance of Urine-Diversion Sanitation Systems in South Africa
Report no 1439/2/06
June 2006



This report forms part of the output of Water Research Commission project number K5/1439 entitled “Strategy for the furtherance of knowledge and good practice of ecological sanitation (ecosan) technology in South Africa”. The aims of this research project were as follows:

The literature review of this study was published by the Water Research Commission as Report no. TT246/05. The other outputs emanating from this study are presented in four separate volumes.

The four volumes are:

Chapter 2: Acceptance and use of urine-diversion sanitation systems in South Africa

The sanitation policy of the South African government stresses that sanitation is not simply a matter of providing toilets, but rather an integrated approach that encompasses institutional and organisational frameworks as well as financial, technical, environmental, social and educational considerations.  The White Paper on Basic Household Sanitation is based on a set of principles where sanitation is about being a human right and about environment and health.  

The Terms of Reference for the social research aspect of this project were to assess the knowledge, attitudes and practices of communities/beneficiaries using UD sanitation systems in various parts of the country.  People’s behaviour is not motivated by rational needs, but rather by what they 'feel' or 'perceive' their needs/wants to be.  Their choice of sanitation system or product to satisfy their needs/wants is influenced by their feelings towards that entity, their perceptions of it and its ability to satisfy their needs/wants.  The scope of the study did not include the evaluation of UD sanitation projects themselves or the evaluation of the implementation processes of these projects.  It focused on the views, perceptions and attitudes of the users of the UD toilets as well as their daily routines (practices) when using these toilets.

The approach for the research focused on participatory data gathering in the target communities.  A representative sample was drawn from various communities in South Africa where UD toilets had been built in order to gather the information.  An interview schedule was developed and used as a guideline to steer the interviews; it was not used as a questionnaire.  The questions were respondent-generated, meaning that the answer of the previous question led the researcher to the next question.  The interviews were conducted by four social researchers of the CSIR in Northern Cape and Eastern Cape during the periods 18 to 25 August 2003, in KwaZulu-Natal during 08 to 11 June 2004 and in North West during 25 to 28 August 2004.   The dates of the research varied due to the differing availability and readiness of the target communities for the research to be conducted.  In each of the target communities the CSIR researchers were assisted by local community members.  A total of 200 interview schedules were completed, covering 222 respondents representing 1 329 household members.  

Even though there were differences in the perceptions of people from different provinces, the general conclusion of the research was that the implementation processes of the UD sanitation projects and the general lack of community participation in terms of decision making hampered the successful and sustainable implementation and use of the toilets.  The implementation process of a UD sanitation project is a joint venture amongst officials, politicians and service providers, as well as the community.  It should be acknowledged that the community, as the beneficiary, is a key factor throughout the process, and it is important to implement the project with the community members, not for them (community participation).  If the whole process is implemented properly, the community will use, operate and maintain the UD sanitation systems effectively, as they chose them (association with the sanitation system and the sense of ownership is strong).

The research also showed that the UD toilet was accepted as a toilet but not as a technology, i.e. the respondents would use the UD toilet as a toilet but were reluctant to use the products (excreta) from the toilet.  The general norm amongst communities of not handling human faeces presents a huge barrier for the use of excreta.  The majority of the respondents was satisfied with the fact that they at least had a toilet, but almost all the respondents would have preferred to have a flush toilet or would rather use a VIP, as the operation and maintenance of a UD toilet was perceived to be difficult.  Only in the target communities in Northern Cape did the respondents prefer the UD toilet because they were acutely aware of the water shortage in the province.

There was a tendency for interviewees to assume that the provision of sanitation services was the responsibility of local authorities.  During the research this tendency was identified in the target communities (except those in KwaZulu-Natal where the issue was not discussed) where most of the respondents indicated that the disposal of excreta should be the responsibility of the local municipality and not the household.  The need for a disposal/collection system was very community-specific.  Some community members did not want such a service or to pay for such a service.  Those who were willing to pay for disposal/collection of the faeces also thought it was the responsibility of the municipality to perform this task.  Advocacy and training regarding the UD toilets were insufficient to change the perceptions of the users regarding ownership of on-site sanitation systems.

Most respondents were aware of the fertiliser value of faeces but not of urine.  Only some of the respondents were willing to use the faeces in their gardens (mainly in the Northern Cape).  Most respondents indicated that it was a bad practice to handle human faeces and that they would not eat food that was grown in human faeces.  None of the areas visited used urine for agricultural purposes as there was a general perception that urine was harmful to agricultural produce (burning).  The issue of using the products from the UD toilets was not discussed with respondents in the KwaZulu-Natal communities because eThekwini did not advocate the use of the products.

From the results of the research it is seen that careful planning is essential for effective communication and advocacy regarding UD sanitation.  Because it is a relatively new technology in South Africa, it is essential that correct information on the operation and maintenance of the system is transferred.  The difference in operation and maintenance between a pit toilet and UD toilet is significant.  Proper training in the O&M of UD toilets for all the stakeholders is crucial; this includes both the implementing agents and users.  No training or insufficient training will only impede the progress and sustainability of a good technology.
Local authorities should thoroughly engage the users in a consultation process prior to implementing UD sanitation technology projects to ensure a better understanding of the technology as well as to afford the communities an opportunity to air their views.  Sanitation technologies and services should meet the needs and interests of the community and should be designed so that they complement existing practices.  The approaches adopted by sanitation agencies/local authorities should also be acceptable to the culture and traditions of the communities.  Demand responsive approaches (DRA) and participatory approaches (including the use of PRA and PLA methods), in particular the use of approaches such as Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation (PHAST), improve the sustainability of UD sanitation projects.  

Promotion and advocacy processes should be systematic and continuous, rather than sporadic, and education/awareness sessions should be carried out at times and in locations that are convenient to the different groups of communities.  Community partnering, in which communities contribute towards investment in UD sanitation, can help to make projects successful and sustainable.  

Building standards for UD toilets should be flexible and appropriate.  Construction companies should also adhere to good building standards.  Poor construction, in order to save money, only deters users from optimal utilisation of the UD toilets.

Monitoring and evaluation are key elements in the sustainability of any technology.  Monitoring mechanisms should be in place to ensure that projects are well implemented and to establish, with the users, any problems encountered with the systems.  The health and/or environmental departments/sections of the local council should support the efforts of the community institutional capacity (volunteers) by providing incentives or allowances, since the majority of these people are unemployed.  This will ensure the sustainability of the systems.