Lao PDR declares 2008 the National Year of Sanitation
© UNICEF Lao PDR/ Jim Holmes
A team of village volunteers installs the cement rings of a family latrine in a rural Lao community.
By Tom Winkler for UNICEF
VIENTIANE, Lao PDR, 26 March 2008 – The government of Lao PDR has declared a National Year of Sanitation, underlining its commitment to the global campaign launched in January highlighting the water and sanitation target set by the Millennium Development Goals.
Lao PDR was one of the 9 focus countries of the East Asia Ministerial Consultation on Sanitation and Hygiene, held in Japan in December 2007.
The prime minister of Lao PDR, Mr Bouasone Bouphavanh, told national media that the National Year of Sanitation would be a huge boost to efforts to achieve MDG 7 in Lao PDR, where -- in the remotest rural areas -- as few as 16 % of people currently have access to a sanitary means of excreta disposal.
The announcement came amid celebrations marking World Water Day in Lao PDR. A ceremony at the National Cultural Hall in the capital, Vientiane, was attended by more than 1,000 people including government ministers, university students, school children, and representatives from over 120 villages throughout the country. WHO, UNDP, World Bank and UNICEF were among the international agencies represented.
During the event, a drama was staged by members of the Lao Art Theatre with a storyline that promoted clean water supply and toilet use, as well as environmental messages.
Mr Thongloun Sisoulith, deputy prime minister, told the gathering: “I would like to urge all public and private organizations both at central and local levels to fulfill their tasks and to achieve the objectives of this National Year for Sanitation.”
Another speaker was Dr. Ponmek Dalaloy, Minister of Health. “We are still facing numerous challenges in providing safe drinking water and basic sanitation” said the minister, adding that the situation was particularly acute in remote areas where access was difficult and information lacking.
Speaking for the United Nations, Ms. Sonam Yanchen Rana, United Nations Resident Coordinator for Lao PDR pointed out that low sanitation coverage continued to be among the greatest threats facing children in Lao PDR. She said a recent cholera outbreak in the south of the country highlighted the importance of good sanitation and hygiene.
After the ceremony, participants viewed an exhibition of posters, banners and other materials presented by organizations active in the water and sanitation sector, led by the government's Water Resources and Environment agency. Celebrations ended with a friendship football match and a mini-marathon that was held on the morning of 22 March.
UNICEF SUPPORT TO WATER AND SANITATION IN LAO PDR
UNICEF has been working many years in Lao PDR towards addressing poverty through safe water, sanitation and hygiene. Since 2002, UNICEF has supported the construction of gravity fed water systems for over 149 villages as well as opening over 1,120 ground water sources. Through a well established process of community dialogue and contribution, nearly 25,000 family latrines have been constructed through UNICEF support.
The WASH in Schools program has been implemented in 685 rural schools since 2002. Along with water connection, newly supported schools receive a gender sensitive school latrine with hand washing basin and important hygiene education resources.
The ‘Blue Box’ is a unique sanitation and hygiene education package which was specially developed for school children in Lao PDR. It is a participatory, interactive toolkit for primary schools containing games, story cards, songs, posters and other materials containing key hygiene messages and lessons.
Developed in cooperation with the government’s Ministry of Education, the Blue Box contents have been refined, most recently with the addition of awareness and prevention materials on the threat of Avian Influenza, with the focus on the importance of hand washing.
The Blue Box has proven effective in improving hygiene and sanitation practice amongst rural primary school children, who then take these messages into their communities.