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Home > News > To sewer or not to sewer? 3 Feb 2018

To sewer or not to sewer?

To sewer or not to sewer: What is appropriate for African Urbanism in the context of the Circular Economy

Roundtable conversation at the African Centre for Cities International Urban Conference, 3 February 2018. This roundtable was not explicitly about sanitation during #dayZero, but that was also discussed.

The conversation is currently being written up for distribution.


The technology to satisfactorily deal with sanitation exists at any scale, using suitable technologies and collection mechanisms. The next challenge from an engineering perspective is logistics: getting the waste to a central point for treatment in a suitable form for treatment. Through the lens of water scarcity, the applicability of water as a carrier is being questioned. But more than that, the opportunity for resource recovery and closing material and energy cycles in the circular economy beckons. But from a human dignity, or sociological point of view, this is a very complex question. The special session is requested to help shed light on this issue, particularly if it could be conceivable that alternative sanitation could be employed in affluent areas.

Civil engineer Neil Armitage presented his argument for sewered sanitation (pdf, 200KB)

Bioprocess engineer Bernelle Verster argued for dry sanitation. A previous presentation at the Peri-Urban conference is included for context (pdf, 5MB)

Anthropologist Andrew 'Mugsy' Spiegel argued for a different approach to experimenting with sanitation options.

Landscape architect Julia McLachlan argued for a contextual, user-centred approach to incorporate the landscape as infrastructure. She draws inspiration from an article by Prof. Antje Stokman, who also attended the roundtable, titled "Water Purificative Landscapes – Constructed Ecologies and Contemporary Urbanism" (pdf, 1.2MB)

The discussion is still being written up, but the conclusions included that a hybrid approach may be best with some source separation (e.g. urine), at a semi-centralised scale of roughly 10 000 to 20 000 people. The entry point must be public participation.

A rough draft, without context or  a real story, can be found here, for the really curious: