Counting the cost of toilets in Cambodia

3 min read
The Arup and WaterSHED team in front of WaterSHED's Kampong Cham warehouse in Cambodia
Image: WaterSHED

Gabrielle McGill travelled to Cambodia in September with Arup as part of their partnership with WaterAid and WaterSHED. In this guest post from Gabrielle, she shares her experiences by counting from 1 to 10.

While in Cambodia recently, I found myself brainstorming ideas for 101 uses for the krama, a traditional scarf. I didn’t quite get to 101, but with numbers running through my head I thought I could use them to talk about what I experienced while visiting this country. Because who doesn’t love numbers?

My reason for being in Cambodia was because my employer, Arup, has been working there with an organization called WaterSHED Ventures. I was there on a fact-finding mission to understand more about their latrine shelter, alongside my colleague Cass Bodsworth and Geoff Revell, Vantharith Oum and Kimeath Heng from WaterSHED Ventures.

Here are ten facts (and figures) about our trip.

  • We saw one Paradise Shelter being installed
  • The number two leading cause of death in children under five years old is diarrheal disease (which can caused by inadequate sanitation)
  • We visited three provinces in Cambodia (Phnom Penh, Tbong Khmom and Kampong Cham)
  • Roughly four out of ten people practice open defecation in Cambodia (i.e. rather than using a toilet, people defecate in fields, bushes, forests, open bodies of water etc.)
  • We worked in a team of five for most our trip
  • Sustainable development goal (SDG) six relates to the provision of clean water and sanitation
  • We fit seven people inside a Paradise Shelter for a selfie!
  • We learned eight different words in Khmer (the local language)
  • We paid nine times less for a beer at the local pub than you would in Sydney
  • We spoke to ten different suppliers about the manufacture of the latrine shelter
Toilet selfie

As part of its partnership with WaterAid Australia, Arup has been asked to work with a social enterprise called WaterSHED Ventures. WaterSHED Ventures is a subsidiary of WaterSHED, a non-government organisation that has worked to build the market for toilets in rural Cambodia since 2011. WaterSHED has a network of roughly 300 toilet producers that serve 8 provinces across Cambodia. In the past 6 years, these small businesses have sold over 200,000 toilets, meaning approximately one million people have gained access to proper sanitation.

Building on this success, WaterSHED identified the need for a latrine shelter; to create a safe, private and hopefully beautiful space for people to use the toilet. Enter stage left: the Paradise Shelter.

The Paradise Shelter is a flat-packed building designed to be used for a toilet shelter. The toilet shelter has a look and feel that the customers like, with a door wide enough to allow a wheelchair through. People are able to customise the shelter to make it their own and it holds up pretty well over time.

The Paradise Shelter only has a small number of drawbacks: it isn’t brick (the customers like brick) and sometimes the metal inside rusts. But perhaps most importantly, they cost more to manufacture and transport than a customer is willing to pay and can realistically afford (brick toilet shelters are very expensive).

The cost of these shelters is the number one problem that needs to be solved, and is one that the Arup team is trying to address. We are looking at the current shelter design to see if there are alternate materials and alternate ways of manufacturing, shipping or transporting the product that may enable a lower cost for the production of the shelter.

The project is not over yet; making a product people want to buy at a price they can afford is not always easy but something that the Arup and WaterSHED team will continue to work towards.

PS: For those of you interested in all the ways that you can use a krama, someone has put together this