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 privacy policy

Improving sanitation habits: One latrine at a time

July 16, 2012

Sanitation in Cambodia is a health specialist’s nightmare, particularly in rural areas where 70 percent of the population lives.

Most people practice “open defecation”, which means using open ground near their home. Disease and polluted water supplies are predictable results, and the lack of sanitation also contributes to the high mortality rate of 51 per 1,000 live births for children under five.

Under the Millennium Development Goals the government expects 30 percent of households to have a latrine by 2015. In south east Cambodia, the commune leader Kang Vandy is responsible for changing the habits of 3,100 households.

Kang Vandy is helped in part by Plan. His commune is comfortably on track to reach the 30 percent target. Three years ago just 8 percent of households here had a latrine; now 23 percent do. At times, he admits, the message to encourage parents to install latrines can be blunt.

“We have the children to persuade people” he says. “Every three months the children get together and design signboards which they carry along the road. One of those messages is: ‘Dear parents, I don’t want to eat my excrement any more. Please build a latrine for me.’”

Outreach teams also visit the villages to tell residents the true cost of poor sanitation (around $150 per family annually as a result of waste and health related expenses, a 2008 World Bank study found). The teams educate people to boil drinking water and wash their hands regularly. Building latrines is a key element, says Plan’s provincial program manager Munint Mak. Plan trains young people in the skills required to cast the concrete parts that constitute the latrines, which then retail for $51. This is a sustainable model, and provides the unemployed with skills and a business.

Construction is simple. The villager buying the latrine first digs a six-foot deep hole, into which the latrine vendor lowers three concrete rings. Those act as the reservoir for waste. He then tops that with a concrete slab and a pan. Finally the villager builds a shelter for privacy.

To date, the Plan-trained entrepreneurs have sold and built 7,000 of these latrines in Kampong Cham, and 1,300 more in Siem Reap province in the northwest. It means an extra 40,000 people now have access to decent toilets. That brings significant benefits for the residents of communes like Chong Cheach, says Kang Vandy, including fewer children suffering from sanitation-related illnesses.

Additionally, in March 2011 a 5-year project ($6 million) funded by the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council through the Global Sanitation Fund was initiated. The program will directly benefit more than 400,000 households in rural areas of Cambodia, indirectly reaching more than a million households.

Learn more about Plan's work in Cambodia


 Don Montgomery July 17, 2012 11:07 AM
Do they compost the waste? I remember reading something about the Chinese, composting their waste referring to it as \"Night Soil\". An American, Joe Jenkins author of the Humanure Handbook also composts human wastes apparently the composting if done right gets it hot enough to destroy any bad guys that may be in there.
 Plan International USA July 20, 2012 1:23 PM
Hi Don, there is long history in China around Nightsoil management and the composting of wastes for reuse as a soil conditioner or in aquaculture. You are correct that during the composting process heat produced inactivates the risk from excreta related pathogens (i.e., bacteria like Salmonella), soil transmitted helminthes (like Ascaris) and other potential vectors for disease transmission that are contained in raw fecal matter. This process does need to be followed diligently, otherwise, there are obvious hazards from waste being spread onto crops and leading to further infection of the local community. The use of nightsoil is, however, very culturally specific – some cultures consider its use a taboo. In Cambodia, there are some examples of nightsoil from latrines being prized by farmers as fertilizers. In this case, there is no current reuse purpose placed on the sanitation systems – and there may be various reasons associated with this (no local demand, for instance). The key imperative is separating excreta from the community, and this is what the Plan Cambodia intervention is succeeding in doing on a sustainable basis.