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Opinion: From crisis to cleanliness – CSI initiatives have the power to eliminate pit latrines in South African schools

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By Robert Erasmus, managing director at Sanitech

THE continued use of pit latrines presents grave risks in South Africa, particularly within school environments where the safety and wellbeing of children are compromised. Recent government statistics from March 2023 reveal a staggering reality: out of 23,000 public schools, over 3,300 still rely on pit latrines, necessitating urgent action. Private sector involvement through Corporate Social Investment (CSI) emerges as a critical player in tackling this pressing issue. In 2022, a substantial R10.9 billion was designated for CSI, with half of the funds directed to the education sector. By reallocating a portion of these resources towards sanitation initiatives, companies could act as a powerful force for meaningful change, especially if invested in innovative solutions like the Khusela dry sanitation unit. This advanced solution not only holds the potential to resolve the sanitation crisis in schools but also provides an avenue for businesses to elevate their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) ratings simultaneously.

CSI can bypass burdensome bureaucracy

With approximately 14% of public schools still relying on hazardous facilities, urgent action is essential; but eradicating pit latrines from South African schools is no small feat. While close collaboration between the private and public sectors will be required, government has been slow to address this health and safety crisis as promised. Government’s burdensome procurement and tender processes have only served to hinder progress, making it evident that relief will have to be sought elsewhere. This is where a beacon of hope emerges through the coordination of CSI and ESG initiatives in the private sector.

One of the key advantages of leveraging CSI and ESG initiatives is their potential for rapid, impactful change. The private sector, with its focused CSI efforts, can target key areas for high-impact intervention. Schools, being the cornerstone of a child’s daily life, stand to benefit the most. Imagine the profound difference proper sanitation facilities could make in the lives of students who spend most of their day within these school premises. A rapid transformation in these facilities, facilitated by private sector involvement, can significantly improve the learning environment and overall, well-being of these young minds.

A swift and strategic approach to school sanitation

Measuring the success of CSI initiatives is crucial, and this is where a collaborative approach truly shines. Conducting nationwide surveys and prioritising schools most in need will allow for a strategic and targeted allocation of resources. Instead of waiting for bureaucratic processes to run their course, CSI initiatives can swiftly address the pressing issues of inadequate sanitation facilities. The results will be tangible, the impact immediate, and the benefits will reach those in need, without delay or diversion.

Furthermore, ongoing collaboration with waste management providers will oversee these sanitation solutions to ensure initiatives remain purpose-fit, providing not just a one-time fix but a sustained relationship for ongoing positive change.

A safe, cost-effective sanitation solution

At the forefront of revolutionising sanitation in South African schools stands the Khusela dry sanitation unit. Unlike traditional pit latrines, the Khusela unit offers a safer and more hygienic alternative, eliminating the inherent health risks associated with dangerous, unsanitary facilities. Its design focuses on promoting a healthier environment by efficiently managing waste, mitigating contamination, and significantly reducing unpleasant odours. The introduction of Khusela units in schools will not only address a critical health concern but also empower students, especially girls, by providing a discreet and dignified space for personal hygiene, ensuring that the barriers to regular school attendance are diminished.

Additionally, the ESG advantages of sanitation upgrade projects are significant, spanning environmental preservation, enhanced social well-being, and improved governance, aligning clearly with fundamental ESG principles that emphasise dedication to a sustainable future.

CSI and ESG – a win-win

In short, effective CSI initiatives focused on sanitation offer a dual advantage: they align with corporate CSI objectives while directly addressing essential ESG aspects like environmental and social responsibility. This unique synergy creates a win-win scenario, where the private sector can fulfil its societal and environmental obligations and ultimately contribute to a sustainable and equitable future.

The call to action is clear – businesses must recognise the power they possess to expedite change and must engage with organisations in the waste management, hygiene, and sanitation space for impactful partnerships. Together, we can replace pit latrines in South African schools with safer, more hygienic alternatives and create healthier environments that are conducive to the growth and development of our youth.

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