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Friday, July 10, 2009

CAMBODIA: "Floating toilets" offer hope for river communities

PHNOM PENH, A toilet now in the development stage could improve the health of thousands living in Cambodia's impoverished river communities.

River communities' homes are typically built on floating platforms and moved seasonally, and rarely have proper latrines. Occupants use the river – the same water they use for drinking, cooking and washing.

The health risks are high: according to Resource Development International–Cambodia [see: http://www.rdic.org/home.htm] , a faith-based NGO, 74 percent of all deaths are due to waterborne diseases, including diarrhoea.

Cambodia has one of the highest infant and under-five mortality rates in the region, at 97 and 141 per 1,000 live births, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) reports.

Many rural Cambodians see latrines as filthy, preferring open defecation as being more natural.

"It's not a poverty issue. Some wealthy people in the countryside don't have good sanitation, and some poor families do have it," Chea Samnan, director of rural healthcare for the Ministry of Rural Development, said. "It's an issue of access to the right information."

As part of its "River of Life" profect, Lien Aid [see: http://www.lienaid.org/home] , a Singaporean-based NGO, is working on what it describes as a "floating toilet". The toilets - built on floating platforms and attached to homes – will effectively prevent faeces from entering the water.

"We are still in the preliminary stages of testing out the prototypes," Sahari Ani, Lien Aid's head, told IRIN.

Eco-sanitation design

The device has three components - a superstructure, a urine diversion pan, and a space for a removable bucket or container for waste material.

Central to the design is the pan itself, effectively separating urine from faeces. A separate section of the pan allows for anal washing.

Materials such as dry soil, ash and wood chips can be added to excreta, thereby reducing odour and pathogens, while cutting the volume of waste.

The semi-decomposed faeces is then treated at a secondary storage chamber for complete decomposition and pathogen destruction, while the nutrient-heavy urine could be used as fertilizer after removal.

Commenting on the merits of the pan, Judy Hagan, project manager of a different operator, the Tonle Sap Floating Latrine Design Project, said separating the two waste materials reduced the bulk and mass of the faeces that needed to be treated, making it more viable in a floating environment.

Key challenges

But introducing such concepts in a country like Cambodia will not be easy.

As floating river communities exist only in Cambodia and a handful of other Asian nations, latrines designed specifically for their needs are rare and expensive.

Added to this is the country's lack of qualified engineers, poor sanitation infrastructure and low level of hygiene awareness.

"The more difficult challenge is to help the community build up the human resources necessary to make the venture financially sustainable over the long term," Sahari Ani said.

According to the World Bank, only 16 percent of rural Cambodians have a proper toilet, the lowest level in Southeast Asia.

Moreover, despite the country's abundant freshwater rivers and lakes, 60 percent of its population do not have access to safe water and 85 percent are without adequate sanitation, Lien Aid stated.

Cost effectiveness

While an exact price for the device is still being determined, the NGO hopes costs can be kept to a minimum, with families possibly purchasing building material in bulk to keep down costs.

One-third of Cambodians live on less than US$0.50 a day, according to government statistics, making cost a significant factor.

"We will still try to keep costs down by exploring the use of [local] materials and by encouraging local entrepreneurs to manufacture the required parts," Lien Aid's head explained.

Although fairly new, villagers in Cambodia have already been learning how to construct cheaper latrines for as little as $15 each from the community-led total sanitation programme, started in 2005 by UNICEF and Cambodia's Ministry of Rural Development.

And while not of the floating toilet type, the self-built, cost-effective latrines could provide further impetus to the floating toilet prototype once their use becomes more widespread.
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Thai prime minister wraps up visit to Vietnam (Roundup)

Hanoi- Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva wrapped up his one-day visit to Vietnam on Friday.
Abhisit met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and General Secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party Nong Duc Manh.

He hailed the Vietnamese government for its economic growth of 3.9 percent in the first half of the year.

'I am very impressed by Vietnam's achievement,' Abhisit told Nong Duc Manh at the meeting.

Abhisit discussed a series of issues with his Vietnamese counterpart including economics, politics, bilateral trade, military matters, rice export collaboration, transport, tourism and the protection of the Mekong River.

The prime ministers agreed that trade between the two countries did not do well in the first five months of the year. Bilateral trade revenue was worth 1.9 billion dollars, down 30 per cent compared with the same period last year.

The two countries also discussed cooperation among members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) as Vietnam will take its turn to chair the regional bloc in 2010.

This year, Thailand is chairing ASEAN, which also includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Singapore.
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Cambodian SEA Games team downsized

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia will send a team to the South East Asian Games half the size compared with that to the last version, local media reported Friday.

Thong Khon, president of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC) told the Phnom Penh Post that they will send over 100 athletes and officials to compete in seven events in the upcoming 25th SEA Games in Vientiane, Laos in December. Over 200 were sent to the previous Games in Thailand 2007.

Cambodia's most successful one discipline during those games was petanque, with the team finishing second overall to Thailand, capturing two golds, three silvers and two bronzes then.

Thong Khon said the NOCC trains around 340 athletes in their sports training center, located in the grounds of Olympic Stadium, but called on all public to provide support for their drive for greater Cambodian sporting achievements.

The FOCC claimed they currently organize national championships in tennis, taekwondo, wrestling, boxing, athletics, beach volleyball, petanque (which they call simply petan) and 25 other sports, as well as frequent international friendly matches. (PNA/Xinhua)

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Vietnam to discuss Mekong River with Thailand

Hanoi - Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung is to meet Friday with Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajiva and plans to discuss the exploitation and use as well as the protection of the Mekong River, state media reported. The talks in Hanoi are also to focus on coping with the global economic crisis.

Vietnam is facing threats to its ecology, food security and the livelihoods of its people as upstream countries like China, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia build major dams on the Mekong.

Laos, Thailand and Cambodia are planning 11 large hydropower dams, which Vietnam said would limit the deposit of silt, acidify agricultural land and decimatefish stocks, affecting hundreds of thousands of fishermen and their households.

The Mekong flows through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia before ending its journey to the sea in Vietnam.

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