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At a glance: Viet Nam

Water and hygiene facilities change lives for families in rural Viet Nam

© UNICEF Vietnam/2006/Nettleton
During class break, students at An Thinh 1 Primary School in Yen Bai Province, Viet Nam crowd the small open area outside their new toilet and washing facilities.

By Steve Nettleton

DAI PHAC COMMUNE, Viet Nam, 17 January 2007 – During class break, Nguyen Thi Huyen, 10, and her classmates at An Thinh 1 Primary School crowd the small open area outside their new latrine and washing facilities. They wash their hands vigorously, as instructed by the teacher.

The white concrete structure is a rare luxury here in the mountainous northern region of Viet Nam, where safe water and proper sanitation are hard to find. Although Viet Nam has made rapid progress in improving sanitation and hygiene, many rural areas have been left behind.

In 2003, only an estimated 41 per cent of the country had access to proper latrines, and recent studies show that no more than 10 per cent of existing latrines meet national hygienic standards. At the same time, basic knowledge of hygiene in remote areas remains poor.

Access to safe water

UNICEF is working with the Vietnamese Government to provide these rural communities with greater access to safe water. First, the organization helps to build the infrastructure – such as latrines and sanitation systems in kindergartens and schools – and then it teaches children good hygiene so they can learn to stay healthy.

At An Thinh, Huyen and her fellow students take part in regular hygiene-promotion classes and take turns each week cleaning the toilets and water taps. Parents pitch in each month to cover the costs of soap and other maintenance needs.

© UNICEF Vietnam/2006/Nettleton
Safe water brings an opportunity to make lives healthier for disadvantaged families in rural areas.

“The class is very useful because we know now we shouldn’t throw our garbage into the river, and we should always wash our hands with soap to keep clean and prevent disease,” said Huyen.

UNICEF is also helping to build water systems outside the classroom. A facility in Dai Phac Commune takes water from a natural spring, purifies it and then pumps safe water directly to villagers’ homes. The system has made a dramatic improvement in the lives of people like 25-year-old Bui Thi Binh.

Easier access to clean water

Ms. Bui used to fetch water from her neighbour’s house or from a well down the road. Now, potable water is available from a tap in her yard, giving her more time to focus on her two children.

“The water is cleaner than using the well,” she said. “Before, I had to go three or four times a day to fetch water. Now it’s easier because it’s in my home.”

For rural Viet Nam, this basic but vital resource brings an opportunity to make lives healthier and offers disadvantaged families a better chance to break out of the cycle of poverty.




October 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Steve Nettleton reports on efforts with the Vietnamese Government to provide greater access to safe water in rural communities.
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