Linking climate vulnerability to latrine functionality and FSM practices in rural Cambodia

4 Poster Track: Applied Research » 5 Social aspects

Speaker: Rana Abdel-Sattar

Summary – for publication in conference brochure:

It is estimated that over 25% of the population in Cambodia is affected by challenging environments that experience floods, high ground water, hard ground, and other barriers to effective sanitation and Fecal Sludge Management (FSM). Rural households living in these environments are more vulnerable to climate change and have limited capacity to resist, cope with and recover from climate hazards. Using formative FSM research, iDE investigates some of the complex effects of seasonal variability and living in challenging environments on latrine products’ functionality, households’ unsafe FSM behaviors, and households’ preference for safe FSM services and products.

Introduction, methods, results and discussion:

Having achieved a marked expansion of basic sanitation coverage over the past decade, rural Cambodia is now faced with the urgent challenge of safe fecal sludge management (FSM). Over 25% of the Cambodian population (at least four million people) are estimated to be living in challenging environments that experience floods, high ground water, hard ground, and other barriers to effective sanitation and FSM.

In mid-2019, iDE and the University of Colorado Boulder designed and deployed a survey to better understand FSM behaviors, knowledge, motivations, and preferences in rural Cambodia. The FSM survey was conducted among 1472 latrine-owning households in five provinces (Kampong Thom, Kandal, Prey Veng, Siem Reap, Svay Rieng). Between 240 and 361 households were surveyed in each province, and a total of 257 villages were visited across 49 districts and 196 communes. 

Proxy indicators were selected to identify surveyed rural latrine-owning households living in challenging environments. These indicators were based on survey responses reporting latrine overflow or malfunction during the rainy season, latrine pits filling up at least twice within three years of purchase, and unsafe FSM practices such as releasing fecal sludge into the open environment (e.g., opening the pit lid during a flood, piercing the pit) (Supporting Graphics, Figures 1 and 2).

Preliminary results show that, based on the identified indicators, about 21% of latrine owners within the five provinces are living in challenging conditions that are likely to prevent the proper functioning of a basic pour flush pit latrine. Households’ level of vulnerability to seasonal variation was then classified as moderate or high if latrines were not functioning intermittently or for most of the rainy season, respectively. Initial analysis indicates that Kandal and Siem Reap have the highest percentage of latrine owners (21%) that experience latrine overflow or malfunction at least once during the rainy season; with the vast majority (19%) experiencing moderate climate vulnerability. In Kampong Thom, half of latrine owners (7.5%) are faced with high climate vulnerability due to prolonged durations of latrine overflow or malfunction.

Similar to iDE’s FSM intentions study, the FSM survey results also show that once the pit is full, latrine owners, faced with the lack of safe FSM solutions, tend to practice unsafe FSM methods, including self-emptying, releasing fecal sludge into the open environment (e.g., piercing the pit, opening the pit lid during a flood), or stopping latrine use and reverting to open defecation. Based on the study’s preliminary findings, the act of pit piercing is believed to be connected to climate risk areas as it occurs within the 2013 flood extent and seems to be exacerbated by increased rainfall and flooding (i.e. climate change) during August and September, some of the wettest months of the year.

With some assumptions, iDE will also investigate if there is a connection between living in challenging environments and households’ preference and willingness to pay for safe FSM services (e.g. additional pit installations, pit emptying). 

Conclusions and implications:

The FSM survey analysis and results are meant to provide a better overall understanding of the impact of climate change on sanitation and FSM in order to enable iDE to develop sharper strategies to address SDG 6.2 and achieve widespread "safely managed sanitation." 

Tools to identify less-visible, climate-vulnerable, challenging environments can be costly and difficult (groundwater mapping, precipitation/flood models, ground-soil assessments, etc.). By assessing households’ behavior and learning from local knowledge, the WASH sector can craft more strategic sanitation solutions alongside those who will be using them. This will further enable the sector to comprehensively assess and predict climate-related sanitation challenges and develop solutions for a wider spectrum of geographies in advance of widespread, disruptive climate events and patterns.

Rural households’ living in challenging environments are faced with different thresholds of vulnerability to climate change and barriers to effective FSM products and services. By comparing households’ FSM behaviors and preferences in these environments, iDE can prioritize and market customized sanitation solutions to those who are most vulnerable.

Relevant references:

& King
M. (2017). Small-Scale Wastewater Treatment Technologies for Challenging Environments.
& Nicoletti
C. (2020). Context and Intentions: Practical Associations for Fecal Sludge Management in Rural Low-income Cambodia. Journal of Water
Sanitation and Hygiene for Development
The Royal Cambodian Government Ministry of Rural Development (2020). National Faecal Sludge Management Guidelines for Rural Households.

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