In many developing Southeast Asian countries, governments seldom prioritize sanitation when there is a limited spending budget. However, over the past decade or so, many countries in the area have experienced steady economic growth which has led to gradual improvements in sanitary conditions for the people. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Southeast Asia.
10 Facts About Sanitation in Southeast Asia
- Increased Coverage for Improved Sanitation: As of 2018, 95.5 percent of Southeast Asia’s urban population and 85.6 percent of its rural population had access to improved drinking water. This marked a 2.4 percent increase in access for urban locations and an 8.9 percent increase for rural areas since 2005. Approximately 80.8 percent of people living in urban areas and 64.3 percent living in rural areas had access to improved sanitation such as flush toilets and piped sewer systems in 2018. Access to improved sanitation is also increasing at greater rates than improved water in most countries.
- Improved Health Due to Better Conditions: Around 0.71 percent of all deaths in Southeast Asia in 2017 was the result of unsafe sanitation conditions. This percentage has dropped 2.3 percent since 1990 and is lower than the world average of 1.38 percent. Cases of infectious diseases, diarrhea, malnutrition and other negative health effects that open defecation caused have also gone down as the share of the population practicing such actions decreased. As for countries where substantial toilet infrastructure is still lacking, such as Cambodia, Timor, Laos and Indonesia, scientists are working to design and install new flush toilets. One team at the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok has received a $5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to fund such a project.
- Creating Comprehensive National Policies: Certain developing Southeast Asian countries lack comprehensive regulations regarding the design and construction of sewers and other sanitation systems. Existing regulations often fail to take variations in local conditions into consideration and people do not always strictly enforce these regulations. Some also neglect to assign the responsibility of management to an institution.
- Establishing Institutional Management: Limited ability to implement sanitary systems and unclear institutional division of responsibility has caused gaps in service provision, resulting in low-quality infrastructure, delayed constructions and miscommunications. Multiple international committees have called for government officials to receive training in all essential aspects of sanitation management.
- Raising Awareness Among Policymakers: Internationally, the U.S. Agency for International Development recommended that local policymakers become aware of the benefits improved sanitation systems have regarding health, environment and economy through regional research collaborations and water operator partnerships. The intergovernmental Association of Southeast Asian Nations has also come together to discuss Indonesia’s progress in delivering improved water and sanitation to its people. Locally, increasing media coverage and discussions about sanitation are also helping the subject gain focus.
- Raising Awareness Among Local Community: Many locals are unaware of the dangers that lie in unsanitary defecation and do not understand the purposes of an improved sewer system. In Indonesia, Water.org has held media sessions to encourage dialogue and awareness regarding sanitation. Similarly, many community health centers and international organizations are working to educate locals on the benefits of improved sanitation, as well as to inform them of the services and financial support available.
- Community-led Sanitation Installations: Community-led total sanitation efforts have drastically improved conditions in many Southeast Asian countries as self-respect became the driving force behind the movement. With help and guidance from local authorities, community households can get the financial and institutional support necessary to connect to the more improved sanitation systems.
- Financing On-Site Sanitation Installations: Government sanitation funding often focuses on the large-scale municipal infrastructure like waste treatment plants, tending to overlook the construction of supporting connection infrastructure necessary for on-site household sanitation systems. As a result, people have turned to local banks and other financial institutions for loans that would enable them to build the necessary infrastructure necessary to access improved water on a daily basis.
- Local Programs Improve Water Sanitation: There are several local efforts that are working to preserve Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake, Tonle Sap, so as to improve the lives of approximately 100,000 locals living in the surrounding area. The Cambodian enterprise Wetlands Work is selling innovative technologies, such as water purifying system HandyPod that uses bacteria to turn raw sewage into grey water. Meanwhile, the NGO Live & Learn Cambodia is in the process of testing new toilet innovations.
- Water Privatization Limits Accessibility: The privatization of water is a common phenomenon in Southeast Asia. In Indonesia, for example, European companies Thames Water and Suez have 25-year contracts with the local government in 1997 to provide water for the country’s capital, Jakarta. With the goal of ensuring piped water coverage for 97 percent of the popular by 2017, the actual number came up to only 59.4 percent. However, in Surabaya, another Indonesian city, the government provided water publicly through the government and coverage reached 95.5 percent in 2016. Calculations determine that average water prices in the city are one-third of that in Jakarta.
These 10 facts about sanitation in Southeast Asia show how these countries are making consistent progress in procuring improved sanitation for their population. With the assistance of intergovernmental organizations and nonprofits, more people are now living under safe and sanitary conditions.
– Kiera Yu