Monday, September 6, 2010

"Sanitation marketing": selling toilets to Cambodian villagers

Improving rural sanitation is never an easy task, but an NGO working in Cambodia – where around 80 percent of the rural majority lacks proper sanitation – reckons it might have the answer: Selling unsubsidized latrines.

It sounds counter-intuitive: selling latrines to Cambodia’s rural masses. After all, most people in the countryside are either on the poverty line or close to it. For that reason the standard – even logical – approach through NGOs and organizations like the Asian Development Bank has been to provide subsidized toilets.

But Cordell Jacks, a Canadian who runs the water and sanitation program at an NGO called IDE Cambodia, says IDE prefers to use what he calls "sanitation marketing".

"With sanitation marketing there is absolutely zero subsidy," he explains. "The problem with subsidy is that it creates a toxic cycle of dependency. Once one family has a subsidized latrine, then every family in the village wants a subsidized latrine. That doesn’t create a very good business opportunity for an entrepreneur."

Cambodia desperately needs to improve sanitation and hygiene in rural areas. Most people use a piece of ground near to where they live – a method known as "open defecation", which brings disease and is one reason the country’s under-five mortality rate is among the highest in Asia.

The numbers are stark: Five years ago just 16 percent of the population in rural areas had access to a latrine.

Jacks says the team at IDE started by redesigning the standard toilet – which is made up of three concrete rings that are dropped into a six-foot hole to act as a reservoir; a concrete slab on that; and a pan. The redesign made it easier to install and much cheaper to make.

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