Monday, October 28, 2013

Toilet, or Ticket?

Post by Lauren Yamagata, Program Associate, WASH

“Sorry, you have to buckle your seat belt when you ride in the front,” apologized my colleague from Plan Cambodia as we got into the car.

“No need to apologize, I always buckle up. In America the law is all people need to buckle up, and I grew up that way,” I told him.

His surprise at my response wasn’t unexpected. Road safety in Cambodia is fairly typical of a developing country, while laws may be in place, enforcement is non-existent. I told him about the catchy campaign slogan “Click it, or ticket” that was emblazoned on highway signs during my childhood and he was fascinated when I told him that to this day, my mother won’t start the car until all passengers have buckled their seat belts.

I was in Cambodia for my first visit to meet the Plan Cambodia staff of the “Cambodia Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Improvement Project” (CR-SHIP), which I had been supporting for the past year from our office in Washington, DC. The project is in place in five provinces with low sanitation coverage rates to increase access to improved sanitation and educate people on good sanitation and hygiene behaviors.

It can be hard for us to imagine what life would be like without a toilet. The modern flush toilet has been around for over 200 years and most young Americans like me have always had one as their primary facility to use. Unfortunately, our reality is not shared with the 2.5 billion people around the world who don’t have access to adequate sanitation and especially the 1.1 billion people who practice open defecation. The Cambodian government has set a Millennium Development Goal target for 33% of rural households to have access to improved sanitation by 2015.

Plan Cambodia and CR-SHIP work to bring access to sanitation in rural Cambodia through approaches such as Community-led Total Sanitation (CLTS), and Sanitation Marketing (SanMark) to end open defecation. CLTS is community based approach that plays on the negative emotional response when people realize that practicing open defecation leads to the contamination of food by their own waste.

As CLTS stimulates individuals to take action and improve their sanitation facilities, SanMark works with local entrepreneurs to address the new demand. Traditional strategies of either building latrines or giving subsidies for people to build latrines can work, but they are often expensive and don’t always ensure behaviors will change. These strategies on the other hand, are used to influence people to change their behavior and when it comes from them, the change is more likely to be sustained.

Sitting in the car with my colleague, our conversation on seat belts got me thinking about how a successful campaign like “Click it, or ticket” can have a huge impact. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t buckle up in a car (although I’m sure my parents do), just like I don’t know what it is like to live without access to adequate sanitation.

Changing peoples’ behavior is a slow process, but if it can be achieved here in Cambodia, maybe we will see a generation of children grow up like me, not knowing what life would be like not to have access to something as simple as a toilet.

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