Communal Ablution Blocks for Informal Settlements
E’Thekwini Metropolitan Municipality Water and Sanitation Services
South Africa

The Problem

One of the worst legacies of apartheid is the inadequate provision of water and sanitation service delivery. While the South African Constitution recognizes the universal right of access to these services, inadequate access still plagues the lives of the majority of South Africans. Previously, the e’Thekwini Metropolitan Municipality provided these services to its urban, mostly white and middle class population, but with the influx of people to the city in search of job opportunities, informal housing settlements have increased exponentially. Densely built, informal settlements provide little space for full sanitation services making residents vulnerable to water-borne diseases as they need to use home-made pit latrines. Women and children who are responsible for cleaning, walk long distances in poorly lit areas to obtain water or use toilets, making them vulnerable to crime. Environmental pollution also increases due to open defecation and grey water runoff, which occurs when there is no waste-water and sanitation system in place. Currently 350 informal housing settlements in Durban housing approximately 1 million people do not have access to these services. Because the area is also a site for the formal re-housing programme the solution to a full water and sanitation service needs to be of a temporary nature until residents are relocated to fully serviced houses.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
The e’Thekwini Municipality has designed an effective temporary solution to address this problem, known as the Communal Ablution Blocks (CABs). These are modified shipping containers, each having 2 showers, each with a door for privacy, 2 flush toilets with doors, 2 hand basins, and a small locked storeroom for cleaning materials. In addition the containers used by men have 2 fitted urinals. Attached to the outside of each container are 4 basins used for washing clothes. Lighting is provided at night and improves the safety of users, particularly the safety of women and children. The CABs are connected to the municipal sewerage and water systems and are provided on 350 sites in informal settlements in pairs - one for women and one for men. This eliminates environmental pollution caused by open defecations and minimizes grey water runoff. Although most of the washing takes place at the CABs, grey water runoff was not completely eliminated as people used water for other purposes at the dwellings. To address this potential health hazard, a vertical garden was designed and piloted to fit in small places so that grey water could filter directly to the roots of vegetables. The vertical food gardens provide vegetables to poor families. The construction of the CABs also generated employment as people from the community were employed to assist in the installation process. These labourers acquired building skills, which they can use in seeking further job opportunities. Caretakers were assigned to manage the CABs and ensure that consumables such as soap and toilet paper are readily available. The employment of female caretakers provides jobs for women in these marginalised communities.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
Challenged to provide water and sanitation services to informal housing settlements, the e’Thekwini Municipality’s Housing, Architecture, Health, and Water and Sanitation Departments jointly came up with the CABs concept. Implemented in 2004, the Health Department (HD) assumed overall responsibility for managing the programme, as they were mandated to roll out sanitation services in the Metro. But the HD did not have the technical skills to manage the large-scale rollout, operations and maintenance of these facilities. So in 2009, EWS took over responsibility of the programme and the installation of the CABs. Africa Ahead (NGO) provided support to the health clubs and facilitated interaction between the residents while Key of Hope (NGO) trained and educated local residents to manage the play areas and crèches. The Expanded Public Works Programme funds the employment of 300 caretakers to assist with operations and maintenance of the CABs. The caretakers ensure that operations at the CABs run smoothly to prevent damage to the facilities. The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry’s Massification Grant provides ongoing regulatory support and funding. The Agricultural Management Unit (AMU) within the municipality is responsible for the establishment of the communal food gardens to assist with poverty alleviation in those areas where the CABs are located. The AMU also supports the crèches and play areas to ensure safe spaces for children. The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) monitors and evaluates the programme having undertaken surveys in 2010 and 2011.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
The CABs Programme had two objectives: to provide sanitation and water services as well as skills training and job opportunities to the residents of informal settlements. Main strategies included: obtaining community buy-in; ensuring that the CABS were mobile; establishing a municipal support team for ongoing maintenance; and ensuring that the programme had a positive impact on the environment. Residents are ambivalent when receiving services. They are excited, but anxious about possibly being excluded from the housing waiting list. This ambivalence often contributes to the vandalism and the destruction of government property. To prevent this, the e’Thekwini Water and Sanitation (EWS)programme in partnership with Africa Ahead (NGO), established health clubs among the residents and conducted focus groups to determine what their needs were. Community buy-in was achieved in this way. So as not to lose an asset the CABs are mobile, so that when the community is moved to formal housing, the CABs would be relocated to another informal settlement. A caretaker is employed to clean up daily and a support team is set up in the EWS to respond to any maintenance work. Experience has taught the EWS that it is more cost effective than having to replace infrastructure once damaged. To make sure that the programme has a positive environmental impact, vertical gardens were set up to capture grey water runoff.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
Prior to 2004, informal housing settlement residents in the Durban area had no access to formal water and sanitation services. In an attempt to address this challenge, the municipality’s Health, Housing, Water and Sanitation and Architecture departments met and discussed how they could meet this need. The solution was the implementation of the CABs in 2004. But due to inadequate planning and management, the existing CABs soon fell into disrepair and the HD was never able to meet the needs of the local residents. Throughout this period only 180 CABs were built. To increase the delivery of services, it was decided to provide informal settlement local residents with chemical toilets, but this was not sustainable and was unhygienic. In 2008, the municipal manager amended municipal buy-laws, which stated that the HD was responsible for the provision of water and sanitation services. This function was moved to the EWS in 2008. In 2009 the EWS assumed responsibility for the installation and management of the CABS in informal settlements, and since then 350 CABs were installed. During 2010-2011 the UNKZN conducted surveys amongst the local residents to determine their levels of satisfaction with the CABs. For the duration of 2011-2012, the CAB programme will be rolled out to all the transit camps in the Durban area (the informal settlements which are being upgraded).

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
Initially the CABs were unhygienic, poorly maintained and subject to vandalism and theft. Many community facilities began to fall into a state of disrepair immediately after the hand-over as no adequate operations and maintenance was in place. This was addressed through the introduction of a caretaker programme, which created employment for local residents. These individuals were assigned to manage and clean the CABs, ensure adequate supply of toilet paper and cleaning products. The caretakers were also responsible for the reporting of any blockages or breakages to the EWS for repairs. Toilet paper is provided freely as some residents who cannot afford toilet paper use newspaper as an alternative and this led to high rates of toilet blockages. An operation and maintenance team was also set in place to ensure the smooth operation of the system at all times. It was also decided to install plastic fittings and pipes in order to minimise the rate of theft. Educational programmes taught residents how to use the facilities effectively which would also eliminate unnecessary damages.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
The total budget for the project for the period of 2009 to 2013 is R350 million. The cost of one prefabricated container is R65 000 and the total cost of a pair of CABs, including transport, site preparation, operations and maintenance, hardware and software is in the region of R200 000. A Urine Division Toilet (UDT) and water supply to the houses in rural areas cost nearly R10 000 per unit or R1 million for 100 units. This is five times the cost of one CAB. The fact that the EPWP provides the budget for caretaker salaries makes the operation and maintenance of the CABs far more cost effective. EWS manages the CABs programme and coordinates all activities. Technical expertise and support was provided by the EWS engineering staff, while community liaison and education were provided by local ward councilors and NGOs respectively.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
There is a commitment from the e’Thekwini Metropolitan Municipality to set aside funds on an annual basis until all informal settlements have received CABs. A succession plan is not required as the Municipality is committed to the ongoing sustainability of the CABs through sound operation and maintenance. The key threat to the sustainability of the project is the withdrawal of funding from EPWP for the salaries of the caretakers. The caretakers are of utmost importance in the sustainability of the CAB, thus alternative funding will be sought from Council or other government funding such as the Job Fund to keep supporting the employment of caretakers. The e’Thekwini Municipality is already replicating the project throughout the municipality. However, for other municipalities potential constraints may arise such as skilled and experienced staff required for managing technical projects of this nature. The Municipality has to be financially stable to implement the initiative including the ability to carry costs until payment from government departments are received. Informal settlements of 100 dwellings or more would be the ideal size for a project of this nature.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
The use of modified shipping containers as CABs allow for the rapid installation on land, which is often steep and where space is limited. It also allows for the easy relocation of the CABs to other areas once new houses have been built. In comparison to brick CABs, building and maintenance costs are also reduced. A key factor is the use of materials that do not encourage vandalism and require reduced maintenance. 350 CABs have been installed with 300 caretakers attending to the operation and cleaning requirements. Each CAB services 1000 households, and an estimated 200 000 residents of informal settlements in Durban use them. 3500 local labourers were trained and employed during the construction and also benefited from acquiring skills as local builders. The CABs have become social development hubs, with health clubs (HCs), crèches, the food gardens and play areas, tuck shops and telephone services. Research by the Health Club facilitator, Africa Ahead, shows that the HC and CABs resulted in the development of a strong sense of social cohesion within these communities, which had previously been lacking. During 2010 and 2011 UKZN conducted surveys to measure the effectiveness of the programme, assess customer satisfaction, and provide feedback to guide service delivery. The results highlight that 71,7% of the sample reported that the presence of sanitation facilities in their communities addressed their household needs. A high 82,2% of households stated that the CABs significantly improved their lives. Reasons for dissatisfaction were analyzed and fed back to the planning and design team. An original weakness of the project was the fact that the CABs were unhygienic, poorly maintained and subject to vandalism and theft. This was addressed through the introduction of the caretakers and the operation and support team as well as the use of plastic fittings and pipes. The key ingredient for the success of the programme is the sound leadership provided by Neil McCleod as head of the e’Thekwini Water and Sanitation Department. McCleod and his team have spent the majority of their professional careers at e’Thekwini Metropolitan Municipality and this institutional memory (often lacking in many other municipalities) and a wealth of expertise have enabled project managers such as Teddy Gounden to explore alternative solutions to service delivery challenges often building on previous successful projects in the area. They are expert at accessing technical expertise and the funding available for necessary services. Partnerships with different institutions, such as Africa Ahead (NGO) and the UKZN, help them build social cohesion in communities and enlist their cooperation. e’Thekwini Metro outsources the targeting and training of the beneficiaries to Africa Ahead empowering residents to take ownership of the installation, maintenance and care of the CABs. Residents of informal settlements are often poor and lack resources and where they see the benefits of job creation and an improvement to the personal services provided by the municipality, they will more likely cooperate with the government. When the residents do not feel a sense of ownership, this often results in the destruction of government property. The UKZN conducted research to determine the effectiveness of the CABs and to explore the beneficiaries perceptions of the services received. This was crucial to prevent the vandalism of the CABs.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   E’Thekwini Metropolitan Municipality Water and Sanitation Services
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Teddy Gounden
Title:   Community Liaison Manager  
Telephone/ Fax:   031 311 8667/ 031 311 8699
Institution's / Project's Website:
Address:   PO Box 1038
Postal Code:   4000
City:   Durban
State/Province:   KwaZulu-Natal
Country:   South Africa

          Go Back

Print friendly Page