Creating a rural sanitation market in Cambodia


In 2009, we started working with iDE Cambodia on a USAID- and WSP-funded project to use the market to address the severe lack of sanitation coverage in rural Cambodia.


The Sanitation Problem

For 2.5 billion people globally and 84% of rural Cambodia, access to affordable sanitation is a major problem.  Lack of adequate sanitation causes more deaths than HIV, Malaria and Tuberculosis combined.  Women and girls often wait to defecate in the middle of the night, risking assault and snake bites.  Diarrheal illnesses are rampant, hobbling the productivity of workers and leading to a remarkably-high under-5 mortality rate of 83 in 1000 live births. 

In Cambodia, the existing latrine infrastructure essentially falls into three categories: open defecation in rice fields (i.e., no latrine), dry pits (unstable in rainy season) and really nice, really expensive concrete latrines ($200-$600).  These reflect major problems for rural sanitation:  lack of safe, sanitary waste disposal and lack of sustainable, affordable and desirable latrine solutions.


The Design Challenge

Through a 2-year-long Sanitation Marketing Pilot Project funded by the World Bank Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) and USAID, iDE was aiming to have 10,000+ latrines purchased and installed by 2011.  Early in the program, we worked with iDE on a 12-week design project to develop a marketable latrine design that could be sold by the private sector and help develop a strategy for developing the private sector market for the latrine. 

We aimed to design a suite of upgradeable latrines that would enable and encourage all rural Cambodians, regardless of income, to address their sanitation needs and desires.  The latrine designs needed to

  • make the concept of a latrine comprehensible to a population that mostly had never used a latrine
  • enable investment in a sustainable latrine--one that will not collapse, will not degrade year-on-year, will not fill up prematurely and will not be abandoned
  • enable subsequent investments to build upon initial investments in order to make efficient use of a villager’s money and to encourage early investment in a latrine
  • be supported and supplied by the local business infrastructure


The Solution

After multiple rounds of prototyping and user testing, the Easy Latrine was born.  Simple in concept, the Easy Latrine consists of a squat pan embedded in a concrete slab which sits atop a precast concrete catchment basin. A plastic pipe drains the basin into an offset pit lined with concrete rings. The waste is isolated on-site, in the ground. 

The Easy Latrine is a real solution to a real problem. It enables a homeowner-funded, market-based approach that is meeting the needs of every stakeholder in the latrine value chain.

  • In a country with annual average incomof $355, there is little free money to be spent at the household level on improved sanitation.  However, early market studies indicated that a large number of households would be able to spend $20-30 on a latrine.  At $30, the Easy Latrine fits within this range. 
  • Existing sanitation advocacy programs had been promoting extreme choice in latrine options. . . sometimes upwards of 1000-2000 potential combinations of pan, slab, pit and shelter to make up a latrine.   To a completely uninformed audience, this is overwhelming.  Furthermore, in early ethnographic research, villagers expressed that they needed help with everything “below ground.  Above ground, we understand.”  The Easy Latrine core structure greatly simplifies the ‘below ground’ so any villager can visualize it and install it.
  • With a single core structure that deals with the waste transport and store, the Easy Latrine enables a $30 bamboo-sheltered latrine or a $200 concrete-sheltered latrine—it all depends on what shelter the villager chooses to add.  This makes the concept of upgradeability possible and probable and eliminates the concern that any early investments would be wasted if the villager chooses to upgrade later.
  • The single core option greatly simplifies marketing and education outreach efforts, reducing the burden on marketing and sales staff, and better enabling concrete producers to sell the product.
  • The manufacturing improvements to the precast components (head frame for ring construction and the use of rice husk ash) allow concrete producers to lower the retail prices of the components by 42% but retain the same profit margins.
  • The precast catchment basin enables the villager to avoid hiring a skilled mason to build the basin and trims $7-10 off what the installed latrine would otherwise cost.


The Impact

Through much hard work on behalf of the toilet entrepreneurs and persistence on behalf of the NGOs and government groups that supported them, the Easy Latrine product concept has been remarkably successful at building a sanitation market and expanding sanitation coverage in rural Cambodia. Over 200 toilet entrepreneurs and over 800 commissioned-based sales agents are now employed selling toilets to rural villagers. Combined, they have sold over 100,000 latrine units in the past four years--bringing safe sanitation to over 500,000 rural Cambodians. 


More Information

The following links and documents provide greater detail on the product and businesses:

iDE SanMark  

WaterSHED SanMark  

IDEA Gold & Best of Show Press Release

WSP Field Note