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DURBAN eTHEKWINI: Sanitation Status

Sanitation provision in eThekwini (South Africa’s third-largest city) is reasonably good by comparison with most cities in sub-Saharan Africa, in line with South Africa’s relatively high per-capita GNP: most people have access to a hygienic toilet, and most sewage is treated before discharge to the environment in a controlled manner. However, a significant minority of the city’s population (about 15%) still lacks adequate sanitation; these are mostly black Africans living in low-income townships and informal settlements. This article briefly summarizes the current sanitation situation in eThekwini.

This page is part of the fully editable open-access reference source on the sanitation status of all major cities in sub-Saharan Africa. The resource considers the 40 urban agglomerations in sub-Saharan Africa with a current population of 1 million or more. To read some of the other 40 country profiles, go back to the resource Homepage.

N.B These pages should be considered as incomplete provisional drafts, and contributions are actively requested from specialists with expert local knowledge of each specific city

Background information

eThekwini Municipal Area (EMA) is located on the eastern seaboard of South Africa within the Province of KwaZulu-Natal and covers an area of 2 297 square kilometres. While the total area of the EMA is only 1.4% of the total area of the province, it contains just over a third of the population of KwaZulu-Natal (approximately 3.6 million people) and 60% of its economic activity.

The EMA was formed in December 2001. The boundary of the EMA increased the boundary of the previous Durban Metropolitan Area by 68% whilst increasing the population by only 9%. Some 35% of the EMA is predominantly urban in character, with over 80% of the population living in these areas. The remainder is rural in nature. Note that extensive peri-urban districts of the municipality are semi-rural in character, with low population density (in other words, the municipality extends beyond the urban area; see map in EWS 2011, page 19). 

The EMA is characterised by diverse topography, from steep escarpments to the west to a relatively flat coastal plain in the east. Climate is humid subtropical. Flooding sometimes affects some settlements, but is not a severe problem. Industrial activity is extensive and diverse. There is significant agricultural activity within the metropolitan area, which includes low-density semi-rural districts (Smith et al. 2005). A significant proportion of the population lives in low-income townships, including informal settlements.

 This makes it difficult to identify the exact number of households within the Municipality and numbers are estimated based on the aerial photography. A survey carried out in 2011 (EWS, 2011 page 21) identified the presence of just over 912 400 households within the EMA consisting of formal houses (54%); informal settlements including backyard shacks (34%); and rural households (12%). 

Water resources and supply: overview

Water comes mainly from dammed rivers (Durban Metro 2000). Bulk water is purchased from Umgeni Water and distributed to customers by EWS. EWS relies extensively on geographic information (GIS) system to record the extent and details of all water services. A water distribution network point is effectively available within 200 metres of each resident. In addition to the three water treatment plants operated by Umgeni Water, EWS operates four water works and a wastewater recycling plant which has the capacity to treat approximately 40 Ml/day of wastewater and treats it to near potable standards for industrial use.

EWS provides water to consumers via a number of different means depending on access and the type of sanitation system supplied. These include standpipes, ground tanks, semi pressure roof tanks, full pressure systems, or community ablution blocks. 

Free basic water was introduced in 2000 and was initially set at 200 litres/household/day (based on 25 litres per person per day for 8 person household as WHO minimum requirement). This later became national policy in July 2001 whereby all municipalities were directed by the Department of Water Affairs to make provision for this free basic water supply.

Within EWS, the decision was taken to provide this free basic water to all consumers due to the difficulty in identifying only the poor households. Based on feedback from consumer forums, this free basic water allowance was increased to 300 liters/household/day in July 2008. Within the poorer communities, water supply was restricted via ground and roof ranks to this volume, while other consumers were charged based on a rising block tariff depending on the volume of water used. Further changes to this policy was made in July 2012, whereby only those properties with a ratable value of less than R 250 000 (USD 30 000) have access to free basic water, with all other households being charged on the rising block tariff.

A survey of households carried out in 2011 (EWS, 2011 page 31) identified that 65% had access to water via a standard water connection; 23% access via a standpipe or community ablution block; 5% access via ground tanks; and that there is an 8% backlog in water provision. Of these households, 37% are provided with free basic water of up to 9kl/month. 

Further background information can be found in Gounden et al. (2006)

Sanitation access

According to the 2011 Water Services Development Plan (EWS 2011, page 31), about 54% of households have flush toilets connected to sewerage, about 4% have flush toilets connected a septic tank, about 10% have urine-diverting dry toilets, about 4% have improved (ventilated) pit latrines, and 4% have access to community ablution blocks, with a backlog of 24%. Some of these households will have some form of sanitation which is inadequate based on the JMP definition (mostly unimproved pit latrines, though some bucket latrines or no facilities). Durban is the only city in sub-Saharan Africa with a large number of urine-diverting dry toilets, mostly constructed with government subsidy in low-density semi-rural districts of the municipality (outside the urban agglomeration proper).

Extensive education and awareness programmes are carried out on the correct use of the sanitation facilities, and in particular, the use of urine diversion toilets and community ablution blocks. A survey was conducted in 2009 (TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris, 2009) to determine the user acceptance of the toilets provided by EWS and the results of this survey were used to further improve service delivery. Open defecation is uncommon. A study of relationships between sanitation and health has also been carried out by Esterhuizen (2008).

Sewerage system

The densely populated central part of the Durban agglomeration has an extensive sewerage system. EWS owns and operates 27 wastewater treatment works. Two of the works discharge final effluent into the sea, while the remainder discharge to river. Extensive education and awareness programmes are run to educate the public on the proper use of the sewerage system and the importance of protecting storm water drains.  

Septage management (septage = nightsoil and/or sludge from onsite facilities)

eThekwini has implemented innovative and very interesting faecal sludge management systems. Pit-emptying teams are contracted by the municipality, and supplied with proper equipment (e.g. gloves, long-handled shovels) and with a sludge collection infrastructure network (locally sited containers, which are collected regularly by the municipality). The municipality has committed to emptying every pit latrine once every 5 years, free of charge. For more details, see Eales (2005) and EWS (2011).  Various options to treat or dispose of this sludge are currently being investigated, including the conversion of the sludge into fertilizer using the LaDePa process (see below) and deep row entrenchment.

The eThekwini Water and Sanitation division have developed, in conjunction with their technology partner Particle Separation Systems (PSS, 2011), a machine for the dehydration and pasteurisation of VIP sludge and the production of pellets. The machine is branded LaDePa (latrine dehydration and pasteurisation) and has won the IWA development award in 2011.  A diagram of this machine is shown in the figure below.


Diagram of the LaDePa machine

The machine works on the use of heat and medium-wave infrared technology to destroy the pathogens and create a pellet-type product that can be used as a fertilizer. The VIP sludge is fed into the machine, the detritus separated (and disposed of to landfill) and the sludge pelletised, heated to more than 400 0C and then treated with medium wave-infrared radiators. 

Sewage treatment (sewage = sewered wastes and/or septage)

EWS owns and operates 27 sewage treatment works. Where municipal sewerage reticulation is not available sewage disposal is generally the responsibility of individual households via the use of septic tanks, conservancy tanks, urine diversion toilets or conventional VIPs.

These 27 wastewater treatment works make use of a number of different treatment steps to treat the wastewater to remove pathogens, bacteria and other contaminants to make it clean enough to enter into the river or sea. Typically, wastewater is screened to remove litter and then allowed to settle to remove grit. Biological treatment then takes place either aerobically or anaerobically. After biological treatment, the wastewater is allowed to settle, is filtered, disinfected and discharged to the environment once it meets all requirements set by the national Department of Water Affairs. The sludge that is generated in the biological process is removed, dried and disposed of to land.

eThekwini Municipality has been discharging sewage and selected industrial wastes through two deep-sea submarine outfalls since about 1970. To ensure that the environmental integrity of the region is not compromised, a stringent and comprehensive monitoring programme has been applied. The work encompasses a suite of microbiological, chemical and ecological measurements that focus on assessing the state of the environment in the vicinities of the two outfall and along adjacent beaches. Additional information is gained through the analysis of effluents and comparative toxicity testing.

All trade effluent discharge to the sewerage system is controlled via a permit system. Trade effluent will not be accepted if it contains concentrations of substances above stated limits. Separate sets of these limits are given in the by-laws for sewerage works of a capacity both greater than, and less than, 25 Ml/day capacity. A third set of limits is applied when discharge directly to one of the two sea outfalls is permitted.
For further information: see EWS (2011).

Sanitation in low-income districts

The Water Services Development Plan (EWS 2011) estimates a total of 92 300 rural and informal settlement households with urine diversion toilets and 40 000 rural households with improved pit latrines (VIPs). More than 34 600 households have access to a community ablution block within a 200m radius.

All households in the rural areas are provided with a "urine diversion" (UD) toilet. The toilet has a special pedestal (and separate male urinal) in order to separate urine and faecal matter. The urine is diverted to soak away while the faecal matter collects in a pit. The toilet consists of two pits, cover slab, superstructure and vent pipe to each pit. The pits are used alternatively and provision is made for the manual emptying of each pit once the material has dried and is safe to remove.

The Urine Diversion toilet is provided to the householder at no cost but the responsibility for the manual emptying of each pit from time to time is that of the householder. A programme for the delivery of UD toilets commenced in 2005 and has delivered some 90 000 toilets to date. The delivery was conducted in a series of project areas which has now covered all the rural area. The current backlog, again based on the 2007 household count, is some 16 000 households. However, anecdotal evidence is that household numbers have grown at a far greater pace than throughout the rest of eThekwini and the backlog is likely to be considerably higher than this figure.

Planning is in place for delivery to be maintained at around 300 toilets per month, thus eliminating the backlog in some 5 to 6 years.

Access to sanitation for residents of informal settlements is provided either by means of:

  • A communal ablution block which provides toilets, showers and clothes washing facilities and is connected to the municipal sewerage systems or an alternative system; or
  • Where no such connection is available or can be provided, a toilet block which consists of toilets and urinals only with no water supply provided to the toilet. Each toilet is connected to its own VIP pit which is emptied as and when required.

Communal blocks, which are built into converted steel shipping containers, are provided as separate male and female facilities, are deemed to serve up to 75 households within a 200 m radius of the facility, and are serviced by a resident caretaker who is paid by the Council.
Some 222 communal ablution blocks have been built to date with priority being given to settlements which are not on the short term Housing list and which can be connected to the existing municipal sewerage reticulation by laying a sewer extension.
Case studies of these programmes are provided on the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance web site: (see Sources and further reading)


Primary responsibility for sanitation lies with the eThekwini Water and Sanitation Unit of eThekwini Municipality, which assumes responsibility for both sewerage and onsite sanitation.

The vision of the EWS is to ensure an integrated use of resources through sustainable water management. For EWS this means providing water and sanitation services in a manner that is equitable, environmentally, socially and financially sustainable, and technically excellent. Innovative methods are used by EWS in order to meet these goals and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) of reducing poverty through job creation, improving the health and increasing the quality of life for people living on the poverty line, while at the same time protecting and conserving natural resources.

The principles and commitment of EWS to the provision of water and sanitation services is outlined in the Customer Services Charter and the Service Level Standards.
A key aspect of all the EWS initiatives is that they take a holistic approach such that water and sanitation services are linked with health, job creation, energy and food provision. Water conservation and water demand management aspects also drive these projects.  

In 2006, Durban Metro Water Services received a Best Practices Award from UN-Habitat, for a programme to educate people about use of the sewerage system, with the aim of reducing blockages (see

Further awards that have been received include the UN Water for Life Best Practices Award for the EWS education programme in 2011 and the IWA Project Innovation Award for the use of Community Ablution Blocks in 2012.

Sanitation masterplan?

Yes, a number of documents exist that outline the approach taken by EWS:

Sanitation financing

Detailed information on the costs of different sanitation solutions is given in the EWS (2011).

Major investments and donor interventions

South Africa, classified by the World Bank as an upper middle income country, receives relatively little funding from international donors. However, EWS believes in the importance of collaboration and partnerships with other organisations such as the World Bank, United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), Business Partners in Development (BPD), Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; as well with other countries such as the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Botswana. Collaborative research is undertaken in conjunction with local tertiary organisations such as the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Durban University of Technology. 

Sources and further reading

Extensive documentation is available from the eThekwini Municipality Water and Sanitation Home Page:

All data regarding household numbers and access to water and sanitation services provided in the current Water Services Development Plan (EWS, 2011) is currently being updated based on the recent census results. This data will be made available on the home page in the near future.

Further background information on the Urine Diversion Toilets (UDTs) and Community Ablution Blocks (CABs) can be found on the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance website ( as follows:

  • Large-scale peri-urban and rural sanitation with UDDTs, eThekwini Municipality (Durban), South Africa (Roma, 2011)
  • Community ablution blocks with sewers or infiltration, eThekwini (Durban), South Africa (Roma, 2010)


Durban Metro (2000) Freshwater resources.

Eales K (2005) “Sanitation Partnerships Series: Bringing pit emptying out of the darkness: A comparison of approaches in Durban, South Africa, and Kibera, Kenya”. BPD Sanitation Partnerships Series, BPD [Building Partnerships for Development] (

Esterhuizen TM (2008) Sanitation, water and hygiene in Ethekwini Municipality, Durban, South Africa: a cross-sectional study. Abstract presented at the 4th Public Health Association of South Africa Conference 2008.

EWS [eThekwini Water and Sanitation] (2011) Water Services Development Plan for the eThekwini Municipality. (

EWS (2004) 1998 Wastewater Disposal Study Review and Wastewater Strategic Plan 2002.

Gounden, Pfaff, Macleod and Buckley (2006): Provision of Free Sustainable Basic Sanitation:The Durban Experience; 32nd WEDC International Conference, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 2006 (

Hutton G, Haller L & Bartram J (2007) Economic and health effects of increasing coverage of low cost household drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to countries off-track to meet MDG target 10. Geneva, Switzerland, World Health Organization.

PSS (2011): The LaDePa process (

Smith PM, Yusuf MJ, Bob U & de Neergaard A (2005) Urban farming in the South Durban basin. Urban Agriculture Magazine 15:16-18.

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