Mongolia mobilizes to tackle hygiene
UNICEF Mongolia recently hosted a four-day National Sanitation and Hygiene Exhibition from 25-28 May 2013 at Independence Square in downtown Ulaanbaatar. Through visits to the Exhibition and its coverage in local media, the event resulted in an estimated 100,000 people receiving public information messages on sanitation and hygiene.
The UNICEF Country Office and the Government of Mongolia have recognised that there is an urgent need to address sanitation in Mongolia. For instance, according to one study, only one-third of rural households use improved sanitation facilities . Similarly, the 2010 Population and Housing Census of Mongolia showed that nearly 60% of peri-urban ger (traditional round felt dwelling) households share their toilet facilities with other households, while about 5% of them had no specific toilets. Only 22% of rural dormitories in Mongolia have access to improved sanitation, and two third of rural students interviewed in a recent study said that they need sanitation facilities in their schools . The Exhibition presented an excellent opportunity to raise awareness and demonstrate sanitation systems that would be appropriate for Mongolia. Through increasing public awareness about the benefits of improved sanitation, it was also designed to accelerate the achievement of MDG 7 targets in Mongolia.
The Exhibition also served as an important forum for the development of Public Private Partnerships in the water and sanitation sector, since companies were able to display their eco-friendly improved sanitation facilities as models of alternative facilities that would be suitable in the Mongolian context and harsh winter climate.
The Exhibition was organised with the objectives of informing the large public about availability of simple and affordable eco-friendly sanitation options, displaying and disseminating information, distributing educational and communication materials and promoting partnerships with companies and factories that finance and produce soap, latrines and waste management facilities in Mongolia.
The Opening Ceremony on 25 May was attended by the Prime Minister of Mongolia, the Mayor of Ulaanbaatar city, top advisors from the Ministry of Health, the Country Director of the World Bank and delegates from AusAID, UNICEF, UNDP and WHO. The event was also attended by members of national and international NGOs, private sector companies, and youth organisations – including the UN Youth Advisory Panel – as well as members of the public from Ulaanbaatar city and its surrounding peri-urban ger areas.
In his opening speech the Prime Minister, N. Altankhuyag, explained that the sanitation situation in Mongolia was in much need of improvement. “Due to the wooden toilets and cess-pits in ger districts and open waste disposal”, he said, “groundwater has been polluted which has resulted in various subsequent diseases among the population”. He said that the Government of Mongolia was firmly committed at all levels to improving this situation. The Representative of the UN Resident Coordinator also outlined the importance of sanitation, noting that sanitation is vital for good health, dignity, equality and safety, as well as being a good investment for a clean environment.
Displays from a number of Government Ministries, ADB supported projects, UN Agencies, international NGOs and private sector companies allowed visitors to view a range of different initiatives. Visitors also saw demonstrations of sanitation and hygiene products, a ‘flash mob’, games, posters, pamphlets and short videos. The Prime Minister and other delegates visited the exhibition booths and observed the various sanitation products displayed in the exhibition. Their tour of the Exhibition culminated in their official signing of the “Yes to Sanitation” pledge. This calls on decision-makers to commit to improving sanitation in Mongolia, since “sanitation… is vital for good health; brings dignity, equality and safety; is a good economic investment; sustains clean environment; impacts on the well-being of the population; and impacts on tourism”.
Two models displayed at the Exhibition and visited by the delegates were the Ventilated Improved Pit Latrine (VIP) and EcoSans toilet, designed for use in households and institutions in the rural and peri-urban areas. Introduction of the VIP latrine is a key part of the AusAID-funded WASH in Schools project. Visitors to the Exhibition were able to interact with booth holders and examine the affordability, eco-friendliness, cultural appropriateness and ease of construction and maintenance of the various models on display.
The Exhibition was viewed by the UNICEF Mongolia Country Office as an important step towards providing model of improved sanitation through public-private partnerships and sanitation marketing, and health in the country, while also opening dialogue on creative ways of dealing with sanitation and hygiene issues in Mongolia. Mr. Mohamed Malick Fall, the UNICEF Representative in Mongolia, said that the Exhibition was particularly important for the overall health system in Mongolia, since “a good primary health care system should also include the important areas of nutrition and sanitation”.
Mr. Fall said that “this Exhibition was a very successful event, and I feel that it was very effective in showcasing the high commitment of the Government and its authorities, as well as the potential to collaborate effectively with the private sector”. He said that it had provided the impetus for all concerned line ministries, development partners and donors to work together to take immediate action to accelerate the achievement of the MDG target on sanitation.
To sustain the success of the National Sanitation Exhibition, UNICEF will continue work with Government departments, donors such as AusAID, UN agencies, NGOs and the private sector to further strengthen sectoral coordination and develop a comprehensive National Plan on Sanitation.