South Africa – Toilets and maintenance

On the edge of Johannesburg sits an informal settlement called Diepsloot. In this densely populated area sanitation is critical where infectious disease can spread quickly and devastatingly.
Healthabitat has worked with incredible locals to replace and maintain heavily used toilets and water points.

Project Background Diepsloot Sanitation Project since 2014

A Real Example One toilet needed by 39 households every day

  • Diarrhea is the cause of one-fifth of deaths of children under five in South Africa.

Faber, T. (2017) 1.5 million small children don’t have toilets at home. 15 October 2017,

2. Replace or fix existing toilets and tap points

3. Install monitors to gather data on toilet and water use

4. Test multiple products and designs to ensure best long-term health results.

5. Use local teams to do fix work and arm them with data. Start local cyclical maintenance program for all toilets fixed

6. Test health hardware designs to ensure toilets continues to function

  • A working toilet, 4000L of water per day saved.
  • Ongoing local employment
  • Reduced risk of infectious disease

Video - Jennifer van den Bussche, the director of Sticky Situations (who initiated this project) filmed this simple video to show how inexpensive and crucial maintenance is as shown by Plumber George Thomson - Chairman of BPEC

Lessons from the Data Data to make a point

Our crucial role here was in the monitoring of water in the toilets. This data allows local teams to quantify their work not just in terms of health but as an economic argument, a very simple equation.

Repair toilet = save water = reduce the cost to the supplier.

$800 repair/toilet = 4000L water saved/day = $2730(AUD)/day/toilet

This data shows the water use over 4 years, demonstrating the average per toilets savings of 4,640 litres of water per day. The data collected on this project proves that cyclical maintenance is crucial to getting waste removed safely.

Before fix


After fix


Average number of litres of water used per day per toilet before fixing (8640L) and after fixing (4000L)

wasted water/toilet/day


repair/replace toilet


Cost to repair or replace a toilet $800AUD compared to to the cost to the City of Johannesburg in wasted water per year at $1.87AUD/KL at 4640L per toilet per day

wasted water/toilet/year


maintain toilet/year


Cost to maintain a toilet $200AUD for a year compared to the cost to the City of Johannesburg in wasted water per year at $1.87AUD/KL at 4640L per toilet per day

Cost of wasted water


cost of maintenance program


Cost of water from all 642 poor functioning toilets in Extension 1 per year

Cost of water wasted = $2,000,000 AUD

Maintenance Program to stop wasted water = $130,000 AUD

Meet the Team Every project has a strong team


Since 2007 the WASSUP (Water Amenities Sanitation Services Upgrading Program) team of community plumbers have worked tirelessly to repair and maintain 642 communal toilets, taps and drains in Extension 1 of the Diepsloot township. This program which not only brings working toilets to residents also trains residents as community plumbers and generally provides some dignity to people using toilets. Through ongoing monitoring, the project has demonstrated enormous water savings and is proven as a workable and scalable program for human settlements.

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A Story Healthabitat’s data shows clearly that an on-going maintenance program is crucial to the continued function of toilets as working pieces of health hardware.

Grant Stewart - IWSH Director of International Projects
Existing toilets, some which were not functioning were replaced with local, quality hardware.

Here is an excerpt from WASSUP’’s 2019 report;

The condition of water and sanitation services in Diepsloot remains dire and the health and social conditions of those living in informal settlements requires urgent interventions. The South African Early Childhood Review 2017 concludes that over 1.5 million children in South Africa don’t have accessible toilet facilities. One result of this lack of sanitation is diarrhea which results in one-fifth of deaths of children under five in South Africa…

WASSUP operates at a local level, but its successes have the potential to provide city-wide best practice….

  • An ongoing maintenance program could save 1,087,291 kL per year If all 642 toilets in Extension 1 were repaired & maintained regularly (4,640 lt/day)
  • A Diepsloot, City of Johannesburg rates bill in 2016 sold water at a rate of R18.830/KL (Diepsloot rates bill 2016). If this was to be spread across all 642 toilets, this would amount to water sales increase of R20,473,693 per year ($2,010,742 AUD)
  • This is a per toilet water sales loss of R 31,890.48 ($3,131 AUD) Per year
  • Initial upgrade would cost R4,256,000 ($417,986 AUD), around R8,000/toilet ($785 AUD), 532 toilets (110 already repaired)
  • For Current WASSUP team to maintain all 642 toilets in Extension 1 Maintenance would cost R1,319,800 per year ($129,619 AUD).
  • A repair and maintenance programme is a per toilet cost of R2,055.76 Per year ($201 AUD)In addition: If an ongoing repairs & maintenance program was rolled out across only Extension 1 of Diepsloot, Johannesburg Water would save millions in avoidable sewerage treatment infrastructure costs. The Northern Wastewater Treatment Works is the largest of 6 treatment works in Johannesburg, designed to treat 450 million litres of raw sewerage a day, with a plan to increase capacity to treat an additional 50 million litres in 2018. An Extension 1 repair program could save 2,978,880 litres of water per day flowing through the treatment works. Now imagine if this was rolled out in settlements with communal toilet flush facilities across the City. It is important to note: Over one year, as each Survey + Fix program was rolled out (every three months), the repairs required were reduced, which meant that the cyclical repair program maintenance cost decreased as the year progressed.

HH says bravo WASSUP!!

City of Johannesburg…over to you.

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Design Solutions Maintenance not optional

Grant Stewart - IWSH Director of International Projects
The local Diepsloot team complete fix work on a basin.

The use of logging for maintenance was realised when a change in the pattern of tap usage was detected while the new toilet system was still being tested

The leak found via the data

  • An email sent to Sticky Situations in Johannesburg to investigate
  • Sticky Situations contacted WASSUP in Diepsloot
  • WASSUP fixed the tap, which was losing approximately 70 litres per hour

This was caused by a ‘push-tap’ not releasing back into the shut-off position. The WASSUP team installed a new ball valve tap (which we know from our previous work is robust) and fixed the issue. A small maintenance task just saved 70L a day or 25,000L per year. The tap that was leaking – a small issue that is easy to detect and fix if the systems are in place.

This shows once again the value of maintenance. This is reminiscent of HH’s work in Aus where almost ¾ of issues comes from lack of maintenance.

Case Study - Leaky Tap

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