eThekwini Communal Ablution Blocks for Informal Settlements

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Main actors

City Government, NGO / Philanthropy

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Project area

Metropolitan Area

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Ongoing since 2004/01

In 2004, the municipality initiated the community ablution blocks (CABs) programme to provide communal water and sanitation facilities to un-served informal settlements in the urban and peri-urban areas of eThekwini.

Challenged to provide water and sanitation services to the approximately 1 million people living in informal settlements, the eThekwini municipality’s Housing, Architecture, Health, and Water and Sanitation Departments jointly came up with the Communal Ablution Blocks concept. NGOs (Africa Ahead & Key of Hope) have trained and facilitated interaction with local residents.

The Communal Ablution Blocks (CABs) programme has two objectives: to provide sanitation and water services as well as skills training and job opportunities to the residents of informal settlements. Because the area is also a site for the formal re-housing programme the solution had to be of temporary nature until residents are relocated to fully serviced houses. In order not to lose assets the CABs are mobile, so that when the community is moved to formal housing the CABs can be relocated to another informal settlement.

EThekwini Municipality remains dedicated to the roll-out of water provision and ablution facilities to identified informal settlements as well as schools in the city and has budget funds committed until 2019.

Originally published by the International Community of Practice for Sustainable Urban Development CONNECTIVE CITIES:

Sustainable Development Goals

End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Reduce inequality within and among countries
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Durban, South Africa

Size and population development
2011: 3,012,000; 1990: 1,723,000; 2025: 3,724,000; 2010-2015: +1.75% / year

Main functions
Durban is the busiest seaport in South Africa

Main industries / business
Sugar refinery, textiles, food, cars

Political structure
The city of Durban is ruled by the eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality created in 2000. The Municipality is governed by a 205-member city council, which elects the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Speaker

eThekwini is a metropolitan area comprising the City of Durban and its surroundings. One of the worst legacies of apartheid is the inadequate provision of water and sanitation services. 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. Densely built, informal settlements provide little space for full sanitation services making residents vulnerable to water-borne diseases and causing environmental pollution due to open defecation and greywater runoff. 

The Communal Ablution Blocks (CABs) were designed and installed by the municipality. CABs are modified shipping containers, each having 2 showers, 2 flush toilets, 2 hand basins, 4 basins used for washing clothes, a small locked storeroom for cleaning materials and outside lighting to improve safety. They are connected to the municipal sewerage and water systems and are installed in pairs - one for women and one for men. To address the potential health hazard of greywater runoff, a vertical garden was designed so that greywater could filter directly to the roots of vegetables.

To achieve community buy-in, the eThekwini Water and Sanitation (EWS) in partnership with Africa Ahead (NGO), established health clubs among the residents and conducted focus groups to determine what their needs were. People from the community were employed to assist in the installation process. These laborers acquired building skills which they can use in seeking further job opportunities. 

A caretaker is employed to manage the Communal Ablution Block (including cleaning and ensuring availability of consumables such as soap and toilet paper) and a support team is set up in the eThekwini Water and Sanitation to respond to any maintenance work.

The current funding sources for the programme include:

• Funding from the Department of Education for the schools project,

• Urban Settlement Development Infrastructure Grant,

• Infrastructure Development ORIO Grant (A Dutch grant worth R180 million with the requirement that 400 sites be constructed) and,

• Savings allocated from other projects.

More than 800 Communal Ablution Blocks (CABs) have been installed, servicing an estimated 500.000 residents of informal settlements. The programme has been providing jobs for 300 caretakers plus 3.500 local laborers who were trained and employed during the construction.

The CABs have become social development hubs, with health clubs, kindergartens, food gardens and play areas, tuck shops and telephone services, contributing to the development of a strong sense of social cohesion within these communities.

During 2010-2011 the University of KwaZulu-Natal conducted surveys among local residents to determine their levels of satisfaction. Two-thirds of households reported that the presence of CABs in their communities addressed their household needs and improved their lives. Reasons for dissatisfaction were analyzed and fed back to the planning and design team. 

An initial 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 ingredients for the success of the programme were the sound leadership, the working environment and the institutional capacity at the eThekwini Water and Sanitation department (EWS) in the municipality. This allowed the EWS to form creative partnerships with the local ward councilors, the NGOs and the municipality, and it enabled each partner to play a very meaningful role in the successful implementation of the programme. Ongoing educational programmes with the beneficiaries of the CABs are crucial to prevent the outbreak of diarrhea. The partnership with the University of KwaZulu-Natal was crucial as the research conducted informed the municipality of possible conflicts and dissatisfaction with the process, as well at highlighting its shortcomings.

- e‘Thekwini Communal Ablution Blocks for Informal Settlements, (accessed 25 February 2016).

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Institution | International Community of Practice for Sustainable Urban Develop­ment

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