On Wednesday, 20 March 2019, SERI’s Alana Potter shared a thought piece on ‘container-based sanitation and urban inequality’ in a seminar hosted by Cranfield University’s Water Science Institute in London. Her input asked whether container-based sanitation ameliorates tenure challenges as claimed by its proponents, or could in fact entrench tenure-related inequalities. 

Container-based sanitation (CBS) solutions are gaining popularity because they provide a household (rather than shared), off grid, sanitation option with the potential to facilitate circular economies and reduce public health risks compared to unsealed pit latrines. CBS’s are also seen as a sanitation solution for ‘transient populations’ such as informal settlements. Alana’s input questioned the idea that informal settlements are intrinsically transient. Sixty percent of informal settlements in Cape Town and Gauteng have been in place for 5-10 years. Transience is arguably more likely the result of forced evictions and urban displacement, evident in most countries where the technology has been piloted. She noted that the flexibility this technical option offers governments could contribute to tenure insecurity, which impacts negatively on the livelihoods of the urban poor. 

Referencing SERI’s informal settlement action research findings and media articles she highlighted the dignity and tenure security related concerns of users of portable flush toilets (PFTs) in informal settlements in Cape Town.  “At the very least, CBS may enable urban planners and policy makers to avoid asking the hard questions about the tenure security of informal settlement residents”. She cautioned technology developers to be aware that, despite their many advantages, temporary or mobile sanitation options have the potential to serve a purpose which is evident in most countries; that of displacement of poor people from urban economic centers.