Triumph for UKZN Students at Human Waste Management Challenge

Two Pollution Research Group (PRG) postgraduate students were part of teams that were placed first and second at a University Challenge contest during the fifth Faecal Sludge Management (FSM5) conference in Cape Town.

Master’s student, Mr Martin Mawejje, and PhD candidate, Ms Danica Naidoo, competed in the teams of three with colleagues from other countries.

Ten universities were represented in the Challenge. Students were from South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Indonesia, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and Brazil. Prizes included attendance at an international conference of the winning team members’ choice within the next two years, books, book vouchers and merchandise.

The Challenge comprised two sections: the first involved multiple-choice questions about faecal sludge management (FSM) followed by a series of complex challenge scenario questions related to FSM; including technical, economic, cultural, and social components.

The teams were equipped with a toilet brush to raise once they had the answer in the first round.

Professor Chris Buckley of the PRG, and Professor Juliet Willetts of the University of Technology in Sydney adjudicated both sections.

Ms Sarah Hennessy, one of the organisers, expressed the hope that the event would be beneficial in helping students meet other students and professionals at conferences, thus expanding their professional network.

Naidoo is completing her PhD in Chemical Engineering, investigating the biological aspect of the water and sanitation sector. Having specialised in parasitology, her research is focused on soil-transmitted helminths and resulting diseases related to water and sanitation.

‘Soil-transmitted helminths are intestinal worms that are transmitted via the soil in the form of microscopic eggs that will develop, hatch, mate and induce infection in their human host. They are one of the most resilient disease-causing organisms found in human faecal sludge,’ she said.

Naidoo is examining the potential of heat technologies to deactivate these organisms and will go on to test the current PRG helminth method for enumeration and quantification of helminth eggs in sludge or soil in order to make recommendations that will contribute towards standardising this method according to the International Organisation for Standardisation.

Naidoo presented a poster on her research and participated in a workshop held during the conference.

Mawejje is doing his Master’s in Chemical Engineering investigating the kinetics, energy and exergy analyses of the solar drying process of faecal sludge. He aims to promote the use of solar energy for faecal sludge drying, which is a comprehensive way to conciliate sustainability and sanitation.

Mawejje’s research feeds into addressing the major global challenge of ensuring safe, adequate, effective and sustainable sanitation, especially in developing countries like South Africa, where conventional sewerage systems are not adequately meeting the sanitation needs of all of its citizens and where increasing urbanisation is exacerbating this problem by creating numerous informal settlements.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied by Danica Naidoo