Dr Surabhi Srivastava with her husband Professor Viranjay Srivastava and children Vivan and Rayan.

PhD Study Tackles Sanitation Issues

Dr Surabhi Srivastava’s study on the management of scum in wastewater pump stations in the eThekwini Municipality earned her a PhD in Civil Engineering.

Srivastava was born in Gorakhpur, India, a city close to the border with Nepal. She moved to Durban in 2013 when her husband, Professor Viranjay Srivastava, took up an academic post at UKZN’s School of Engineering.

Srivastava completed her Science honour’s degree in 2005 and her Masters in Environmental Science and Masters in Environmental Engineering in 2007 and 2009 at Gorakhpur University and Madan Mohan Malaviya Engineering College, Uttar Pradesh, India. From 2010, she was employed as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering in Bahra University, India.  She embarked on a PhD at UKZN in 2014.

Srivastava’s thesis was titled, Management of Scum (Fat, Oil and Grease) in Wastewater Pump Stations: A Case Study of the eThekwini Municipality, South Africa.  She was supervised by Professors Cristina Trois and Chris Buckley. She partnered with the Pollution Research Group and eThekwini Municipality to analyse the severity of this problem in the sewer catchments of Durban. Her analysis of the scum on Wastewater Pump Stations (WWPSs) found that it is comprised of fat, oil and grease (FOG), which is drained from sinks.

‘Over time it accumulates in the sewer lines and blocks the drainage pipes, wastewater pump stations and wastewater treatment plants,’ said Srivastava. ‘I used GIS software and my laboratory data and located all the current and future hotspots of blockages in Durban and then proposed a model named DRAIN to the eThekwini Water and Sanitation department. This model is a unique decision-making tool for the municipality to locate the areas with blockages in the sanitation system that are prone to sanitary sewer overflows.’

Srivastava described her PhD journey as challenging but worthwhile. She has presented her research at various conferences and has published in Department of Higher Education and Training-accredited journals. ‘My supervisors were very supportive,’ she said.

As the mother of bouncing baby boys aged five years and 17 months, Srivastava had to strike a balance between her research studies and her family responsibilities, but her husband’s support helped her through the darkest times.

‘It was a challenge as the project was with eThekwini Municipality and I needed to visit the WWPSs all around Durban.   The municipality provided me with staff and a vehicle to analyse the problem. I worked with Mr Roshen Mohanlal, Manager of WWPSs in eThekwini Water and Sanitation. He was supported by his team in sampling scum from WWPSs. I was in a new country, but people were kind, supportive and friendly to me and I never felt that I was not a citizen of South Africa,’ said Srivastava.

Srivastava thanked UKZN staff member Ms Ausie Luthuli from the College Office for encouraging her, as well as staff in the Pollution Research Group, Ms Kerry Philip and Mrs Merlien Reddy for showing her love and support.

‘They were all always kind and supportive like a family, so that I never realised I was so far from my own family’, said Srivastava.

Luthuli said: ‘I have known Surabhi since 2015. She was a very humble student. I would always encourage her to finish her PhD. It wasn’t an easy journey for her putting in those sleepless nights and also being a wife and a mother. It is through her determination that she achieved her PhD. The day she submitted it, I was so happy for her. Well done and all the best!’

Srivastava is currently contributing her research skills at the SARChI (South African Research Chair) in Waste and Climate Change group at UKZN. She hopes to develop environmental awareness among Civil Engineers, as their designs have an impact on the natural environment.

Words: Zolile Duma

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan