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Lao Villages Declared Open Defecation-Free

Five more villages in Lao PDR have been declared open defecation-free (ODF) as of June 2010. This followed the first ever ODF declaration in Lao in mid-May, which marked the implementation of Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) in the country.

The declaration took place in the Bachiengchaleunsouk District, in which representatives from the five villages--population totals 2,426 people--proudly announced they now have self-built toilets. At the first declaration in Kandone Village in Sekong Province on May 18, Sekong Provincial Vice-Governor Phonethep Khieolaphet, Vice-Minister of Health Bounkuang Phichit, and WSP Regional Team Leader for East Asia and the Pacific Almud Weitz together cut a ribbon to celebrate the event, which followed a CLTS piloting in six villages of Champasak and Sekong provinces. The pilot project was led by district officers of the National Centre for Environmental Health and Water Supply (Nam Saat), under the Department of Hygiene of the Ministry of Health with technical support from WSP.

 As a community-driven approach to improve sanitation behavior among villages in developing countries, CLTS represents a strategic shift in focus from supporting toilet construction for individual households to one that seeks to create ODF villages through behavioral changes in the entire community.  The change happens as communities learn that everyone in the village is negatively affected by the unsanitary practices of some.

 Kandone is one of the poorest villages in the area with 1,011 people (213 households) of the Katou ethnic group.  During a diarrhea outbreak in late 2007, only less than one third of households had pour-flush toilets, most of which had been provided for free through an NGO project.  By the time the CLTS pilot began in 2008, most of the toilets had fallen into disuse and open defecation was common practice again.

“CLTS is a simple but effective strategy to empower communities in taking a decisive step towards achieving something on their own to be proud of. It motivates communities to take collective action in partnership with local governments, development organizations, and civil society organizations,” said Weitz.

“We have seen this work in so many different settings in East Asia by now, with villagers really becoming proud citizens – and government officials realizing that a completely different approach in which they are more facilitators than providers can achieve faster and longer-lasting results than they had ever imagined,” she added.

Although Lao PDR has made very good progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) target of 54 percent access to improved sanitation from a very low baseline of just 11 percent.  Some 3 million people remain without a toilet in a country with a total population of just 6.2 million.  In rural areas, where many families are poor, coverage is only 38 percent and as little as 16 percent in locations that have no road access.  A WSP-funded study in 2006, the Economics of Sanitation Initiative, found that Lao PDR loses an estimated US$193 million each year due to poor sanitation and hygiene, and a recently conducted additional Sanitation and Hygiene Finance Study concluded that MDG achievement would require at least a doubling, if not tripling, of annual expenditures for sanitation and hygiene if the MDG target is to be reached by 2015.