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A latrine to be proud of

Increasing hygienic practices in Vietnam


Villagers in Vietnam know that they shouldn’t defecate in the rice fields. But not everyone has a pour-flush latrine. Instead, they dig pit latrines, which are basically open holes that are smelly and fly-infested. And the pit walls often collapse in less than a year, requiring a new pit to be dug.

iDE Hero Vietnam Latrine To Be Proud Of

Ho Van Dua’s daughter feared being attacked when she went into the bush to defecate. Today, they stand proudly in front of their new latrine—no reason to go in the bush anymore. (Photo by Morgan Kelly Cowles/iDE)

Ho Van Dua is the father of six girls in A La hamlet, A Ngo commune, Dakrong district, Quang Tri province. He was tired of digging a new pit every year, because without any sons, he always had to do it by himself. Mr. Dua wanted something that would be stable, so he didn’t have to keep moving the pit. With the assistance of the Vietnamese government, who paid for half of the cost, Mr. Dua brought sand and gravel to a local mason to use as building supplies and paid him $17 for his labor. Mr. Dua chose the location of the new latrine and dug what he hopes is the last latrine hole he’ll ever have to dig.

Mr. Nguyen Huu Tuan owns a latrine business in the Trung Thanh commune. Latrine business owners like Mr. Tuan play an important role in building latrines that are not only affordable but attractive—a product that households want to invest in.

Access to improved sanitation facilities—such as latrines that effectively separate excreta from human contact—is critical to economic development. Low rural sanitation coverage has serious health, environmental, economic, and human dignity consequences. Lack of access to effective sanitation is estimated to cost Vietnam USD 780 million annually. As of the end of 2011, only 55 percent of Vietnam’s rural families had access to sanitary latrines, increasing at a rate of only about 1.5 percent per year, mostly through public support.

Existing rural sanitation markets are underdeveloped in Vietnam. Low demand and weak supply chains hinder the effective delivery of affordable sanitation products and services. Enterprises do not see sanitation as an attractive market, so they do not invest in promoting latrines. Past publicly funded sanitation projects made extensive use of hardware subsidies, with few lasting results, as people failed to use or maintain their latrines over time. Subsidies also depressed demand, discouraged private-sector interest, and created community expectations of external support. The consensus among rural water and sanitation practitioners was that alternatives to high-cost subsidy programs must be found.

Mr. Dua is extremely proud of his new latrine. While he doesn’t have water connected to it, the family saves water from washing dishes for flushing.He said his daughters are adamant now that they will never use a pit latrine again. His brothers sometimes visit from Laos and stay the night. Before, Mr. Dua was embarrassed to show them the pit, and believes they would go out into the field, so he worried about contamination. Now, he doesn’t worry anymore.

Water, Sanitation & Hygiene Scale Up Project (WASH-SUP) is the latest project in Vietnam using iDE’s approach to developing markets for improved sanitation in rural areas. It demonstrated to Vietnamese central planners that markets could meet the sanitation needs of poor rural households effectively and sustainably. 

iDE Hero Vietnam Latrine To Be Proud Of 2

Latrine rings on display at Mr. Tuan's latrine business. Molds allow for easy and standardized production of the concrete rings. 

iDE created this approach and first piloted it in a number of upland and coastal areas in North and Central Vietnam, in partnership with local government agencies. In 2012, the Vietnamese government adopted our market-engagement method, having been convinced that the only way to scale sanitation to the 45 million people who need it is through a market-based approach. iDE, in collaboration with government health agencies and women’s unions, is expanding rural sanitation in two of the poorest provinces with WASH-SUP: Nghe An and Tuyen Quang, where the percentage of households with hygienic latrines are 26 and 33 respectively, lower than the national average of 55 percent. 

Mr. Dua's daughter Ngan is seventeen years old and will attend university next year. She loves the new latrine, because it’s clean and convenient and not full of flies. While she never used the bushes because she was afraid of being caught, she said that her sisters sometimes would and people would yell at them, saying it was bad for the environment and to use their latrine at home. Now, there’s no question—the new pour-flush toilet is cleaner than the one at school!

WASH-SUP aims to increase sanitation coverage in five districts in the two provinces by June 2018. Within that time, a total of 120,000 people will be using hygienic sanitation facilities, 100,000 people will have increased their knowledge of handwashing practices, and 14,000 people will have handwashing facilities and soap in their households. In addition, local government agencies will be trained in implementing methodologies in building markets for sanitation  to stimulate households’ demand for latrines and increase masons’ latrine supply capacity, to continue improving hygiene in these districts.


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