10 Facts about Sanitation in VietnamVietnam, once one of the world’s poorest nations, has seen remarkable growth after the economic and political reforms in 1986, transforming it into a middle-income country with one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. The rapid economic expansion has lifted millions out of poverty and provided them with access to services and goods that improve the quality of life. However, Vietnam does not prioritize some important aspects of development which affects the most vulnerable and low-income communities in the country. Sanitation is one such aspect that the government has not properly attended to. While 99 percent of people in industrialized nations have access to improved sanitation, only 69 percent of Vietnamese people had such access in 2006. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Vietnam.

10 Facts About Sanitation in Vietnam

  1. Vietnam has seen considerable progress in improving water supply and sanitation. From 1990 to 2011, the access rate to improved facilities of water supply rose from 88 percent to 99 percent in urban areas, and from 50 percent to 94 percent in rural areas. The access rate to improved sanitation facilities rose from 64 percent to 93 percent over the same period in urban areas, and from 30 percent to 67 percent in rural communities.
  2. Vietnam has experienced financial losses from poor sanitation. Vietnam lost an estimated $780 million due to issues related to poor sanitation. The cost of treating illnesses, losing income through reduced or lost productivity and losing time and effort finding access to sanitation facilities has driven the economic losses.
  3. Urban wastewater does not receive adequate treatment. The number of operational treatment plants is small, with the majority of households in urban areas relying on on-site facilities such as septic tanks or soakage pits and discharging overflow into waterways or drains. These household facilities tend to function inefficiently and rarely empty. Estimates determine that less than 10 percent of urban wastewater receives treatment. The drainage and sewage systems in Vietnam combine and often overflow in the rainy season, discharging waste into the streets.
  4. There are severe health impacts of poor sanitation. Poor sanitation and hygiene cause almost 11 million cases of diseases and over 7,000 deaths. Diarrhea is the main disease and also the number one cause of deaths from poor sanitation and hygiene, with reports of seven million cases and over 4,000 deaths. Vietnam estimates that improvements in sanitation and hygiene could reduce health-related costs by $228 million.
  5. Vietnamese people have limited access to sanitary latrines. As of 2011, only 55 percent of the rural population had access to hygienic latrines. In the Northern Mountains, Central Highlands and Mekong River Delta regions, 15 to 22 percent of the population do not have access to any kind of latrines, while 45 to 55 percent of the communities use unhygienic latrines. Only 20 to 30 percent of households own a hygienic latrine in these regions.
  6. Open defecation is still common in rural areas. While the national rate of open defecation has reduced to 1 percent, one in 10 people from rural areas still practices defecating in the open. The rate of open defecation is about three in 10 people for the ethnic minorities in poor and remote regions. This behavior contaminates the environment and water sources, making people vulnerable to various diseases. It is both a concern for health and economic reasons. Vietnam is committed to eradicating open defecation by 2025.
  7. Vietnam has provided an investment in its water supply. The public sector of Vietnam has invested $6.4 billion into 140 water programs and projects between 2006 and 2015. It is currently financing at $1 billion annually for the water and sanitation sector alone but still falls short of the investment requirements, which it estimates to be $2.7 billion annually. While public investment is declining, there are opportunities for developing and increasing the investment and operations of private sectors in Vietnam, as well as public-private partnerships.
  8. Vietnam is undergoing a Water and Sanitation Project for Schools in Vietnam. In 2016, UNICEF started the five-year project with funding from KAO corporation to improve environmental hygiene in rural areas of Vietnam. The project has renovated poor condition WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) facilities in 18 schools and provided training and hygiene promotion to 170 teachers in 40 schools since its inception. One hundred and forty villages in An Giang Province have achieved Open Defecation Free (ODF) status. The project aims to reach 60 elementary schools by the end of the five-year period, benefiting 35,000 children in rural communities.
  9. Vietnam has international support and the SSH4A program. SNV collaborated with local partners to develop the Sustainable Sanitation & Hygiene for All (SSH4A) program from 2010 to 2013, which the Australian and the United Kingdom governments funded. The program has benefited 200,000 people from poor households in the remote areas of Vietnam, enhancing access to improved sanitation and developing hygienic practices.
  10. Women have challenges accessing water in Vietnam. Many women in rural Vietnam face discrimination and many challenges in accessing WASH services, resulting in unmet sanitation needs due to existing gender norms and low income. The Women Led Output Based Aid (WOBA) project, which Water for Women Fund and Thrive Networks support, aims not only to improve access to clean water and sanitation but also to create gender empowerment and ensure social inclusion in marginalized households.

These 10 facts about sanitation in Vietnam highlight some of the challenges and achievements that Vietnam has made. It is undeniable that the country has made considerable progress in improving access to clean water and sanitation services over the past few decades. Thanks to both the national and international efforts, Vietnam was able to exceed both the Millennium Development Goal target for water and sanitation after a 15-year commitment. Vietnam is now working toward the goals of eradicating open defecation by 2025 and providing access to safe drinking water to all Vietnamese by 2030. To achieve these goals, it is important not only to focus on constructing new facilities but also to instill behavior change and public awareness campaigns at the community level.

Minh-Ha La
Photo: Wikimedia Commons