Students Collaborate to Improve Public Sanitation

Plumbing teams from four countries design, install communal toilets in South African community.
Students Collaborate to Improve Public Sanitation
U.S. Consul Gen. Christopher Rowan and Team USA attend Day 4 of the 2016 Diepsloot Community Plumbing Challenge. (Photo by Gallo Images/Lefty Shivambu)

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Teams from the United States, South Africa, Australia and India worked to design and install communal restroom facilities for residents of Diepsloot, South Africa, as part of the 2016 Community Plumbing Challenge in July. Their efforts will be on display at the World Plumbing Conference in Cape Town, South Africa, Sept. 15-16.

This is the second year for the week-long Community Plumbing Challenge, organized by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAMPO) in collaboration with the World Plumbing Council. The event pairs plumbing apprentices with engineering students to help improve public health in regions where communities are still threatened by a lack of basic sanitation and safe drinking water.

The goal of this year’s challenge was to create single-stall restrooms, similar to those at construction sites and sports events that can be retrofitted into existing toilets. Complicating the task is a lack of piping, electricity, tools and materials.

Diepsloot, about 30 miles outside Johannesburg, is an over-populated district where 60,000 people share the use of 700 public restrooms.

Many residents live in sheet-metal homes or cardboard shelters with sewage running through small, dirt-covered yards. Existing toilets are cheaply made and not meant to be flushed hundreds of times a day. Many no longer function.

Each team came to the competition with its own concept for solving the restroom problem and worked together on eight communal toilets that were removed from the ground to develop the most effective and sustainable solution.

Teams tested their designs and supported Diepsloot Water Amenities Sanitation Services Upgrade Programme (WASSUP), a dedicated volunteer and nonprofit organization, to reinstall and reconnect the toilets for local residents. Team USA designed a modular plumbing system that can be removed and taken to a service facility for repairs.

Meters and data loggers were added to monitor water usage through external taps and cisterns. Data will enable each team to clearly understand how their designs performed.

The new restroom concept will serve as a model for residents of Diepsloot so they can continue to upgrade their facilities. A foundation was also established to raise funds to build more facilities based off the model. Team South Africa will oversee the project’s continuation in partnership with the fundraising effort.

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