SOIL Attends Sustainable Sanitation Consortium in Cape Town

Consortium attendees in Cape Town. 

This past September, SOIL Research Associate Maya Lubeck-Schricker traveled to Cape Town, South Africa to attend a research consortium meeting for the Off Grid Cities project. She joined researchers from Cranfield University (UK), University of Leeds (UK), Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (Peru), University of the Western Cape (SA), and Meru University of Science and Technology (Kenya), as well as fellow Container-based Sanitation Alliance (CBSA) representatives from Sanima (Peru) and Sanergy (Kenya). The SOIL team is also working alongside Universite d’Etat Haiti (UEH) on this project, whose representatives were unfortunately not able to attend the event. 

The Off Grid Cities project is focused on addressing sustainable city-wide sanitation to meet the vastly unmet need for safe sanitation services in rapidly expanding urban populations around the globe. The project brings to light the inequity of service distribution, and how urban elites are able to secede from state-provided infrastructure networks in favor of private hybrid and off-grid technologies. The core objective of the project is to explore how elite infrastructure transitions need to be integrated into debates on, and practices of, producing cities that are environmentally sustainable and socially just. 

SOIL is involved in particular research focused on an emerging off-grid sanitation paradigm in the form of container-based sanitation (CBS) across four country contexts – Haiti, Peru, Kenya and South Africa. The SOIL team is excited to be involved in this important cutting-edge sectoral research so that we can continue to pioneer CBS innovations with our EkoLakay CBS service in Cap-Haitien and advocate for equitable access to essential services. 

The questions the Off Grid Cities researchers focused on were: 

  • To what extent do CBS approaches have transformative potential for solving sanitation challenges in informal urban settlements?
  • How does promoting off-grid solutions challenge the prevailing orthodoxy around the expectations of the state to provide basic utility services to citizens?
  • Are the designs of CBS services inclusive or do they increase disparities within and between vulnerable groups and individuals?
  • How are off-grid services like CBS perceived by users and do they impact the mental well-being of users?
  • How does CBS link with other urban services, e.g. water, food and solid waste, and the interactions between them?
  • How might the CBS model be applied to improve other services to cities’ most marginalized populations?

One major component of the project is to collect quantitative data from both CBS users and comparable non-users using Open Data Kit (ODK) to assess if and how quality of life is impacted by the service. Participants are provided with smart phones and training so that they can answer and submit short weekly questionnaires over the course of a year, which will allow for analysis of detailed longitudinal data for users and non users. 

SOIL’s main interest in the Off Grid Cities project is to assess longitudinal wellness data to understand how the well-being of CBS users compares to non-CBS users in Cap-Haitien. Ideally the data would show that the value of CBS is not only about improving public health in terms of safe sanitation and mitigating infectious diseases, but also improving users’ quality of life overall. Data collected may also shed light on ways that SOIL can improve the accessibility and equity of our service and better understand the institutional/contextual barriers and opportunities impacting the scale-up of our EkoLakay service.

Roll-out of the project in Haiti has been difficult due to the current instability and SOIL is in discussions with the Project Leads to find ways to move the project forward within the current economic and political context. If SOIL is not able to carry out longitudinal data collection, the team may be able to utilize ODK technology and complete a one-off survey. In the meantime, SOIL will continue to participate in monthly research meetings with the group and find other modes of participation.

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