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Insights & perspectives on the sanitation crisis in Vietnam

The Unilever foundation ambassador challenge, launched in 2012, is a company-wide initiative designed to build employees’ awareness and engagement with the Unilever Foundation and its five global partners. The selected employees are given the opportunity to see the positive social impact that support from the Foundation is having on people’s lives and share their insights and perspectives

Aytek’s story

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Aytek Koyun, this year’s Unilever Foundation Ambassador for the UNICEF partnership and Foods Specifications Management Technologist for Unilever R&D in North Africa, Middle East and Turkey, recently visited UNICEF-supported sanitation programmes in the An Giang province of Vietnam. Support for sanitation programming in Vietnam is part of Unilever’s long-term commitment to improving the health and well-being of more than a billion people as defined in itsSustainable Living Plan.

Watch this short video about Aytek’s visit to Vietnam and see the positive social impact that the partnership between the Unilever Foundation, Domestos and UNICEF has contributed to.

Life without access to toilets

In Vietnam, over 3.7 million people do not have access to toilets and defecate in the open; this represents a staggering 1 in every 4 people who are forced to go to the toilet in a bush, a river or a field.

“It is simply unacceptable that millions of people lack one of the most basic human necessities,” according to Aytek. “Without a toilet, children in particular are exposed to the risk of disease and death. And the absence of clean and safe toilets leaves women and girls vulnerable to the possibility of assault, not to mention a potential decline in school attendance for girls – it’s simply unimaginable.”

Catalysing demand and supply for toilets

Through support from the Unilever Foundation and Domestos, Unilever’s leading toilet cleaner, Unilever is supporting UNICEF’s Community Approaches to Total Sanitationprogramme, commonly known as CATS. Aytek observed community members participating in a training session designed to help them make the connection between open defecation and the negative impacts it can have on their health and environment. According to Aytek, “It was amazing to see just how quickly people make the connection between improved health and using a proper toilet. It’s something many of us in the developed world take for granted.”

Aytek visited sanitation marketers in the Tinh Bien district who shared a range of cost-effective solutions. “With the cost of a toilet ranging from $150 - $250 USD, many but not all families were able to afford a toilet,” said Aytek. “The combination of catalysing market demand while ensuring an affordable supply of toilet choices is critical to the success of CATS.”

The role of the Vietnamese government

“Successwould also not be possible without the commitment from the Vietnamese government and public health community,” according to Aytek. “I had the opportunity to talk with government and public health officials who shared with us the fact that CATS is being implemented in 31 provinces as part of the National Target Programme on Rural Water Supply and Environmental Sanitation, 2012–2015.” As part of the government’s commitment to tackling the sanitation crisis, the Prime Minister recently issued a statement of commitment that Vietnam will be open defecation free by 2025.

The power of partnership

While more work needs to be done to achieve progress on sanitation leading up to the 2015 target date of the Millennium Development Goals and beyond, it will take continued collaboration among INGOs, NGOs, government, multilateral agencies, communities and the private sector to create a world where everyone has access to a clean and safe toilet.

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