Here’s a link to an interesting report about the economic impacts of sanitation in a Swedish-funded study of Cambodia. This was part of a 5-country study that also included Indonesia, Lao PDR, the Philippines and Vietnam.
According to the study, more than 75% of Cambodians do not have access to a toilet, and the majority (84%) of those without toilets live in rural areas. Researchers estimated the economic impact caused by the lack of toilets in Cambodia including:
- costs of treating disease, including the cost of transportation to and from the nearest medical facility, which could be a significant distance in rural Cambodia
- loss of productivity if a person cannot work or is the caretaker of another sick person
- financial impact of having less educated children (girls often drop out of schools when there are no toilets)
- costs of premature death
- costs of water polluted by poor sanitation, including the value of time needed to walk to more distant clean water sources and the cost of purchasing water
- the impact on fish production, an important part of the Cambodian economy
- and, although had to quantify, the value of lost tourism due to the affect poor sanitation has on Cambodia’s appeal as a tourist destination
Taken as a whole, the study found that poor sanitation leads to economic losses of US$448 million per year in Cambodia. This might not sound like much money when our country is dealing with trillion dollar economic bailout packages, but it is quite a significant number there. It translates into a per capita loss of approximately US$32, or over 7% of Cambodia’s GDP in 2005.
The World Health Organization did a similar study a few years ago and estimated that the return on a $1 investment in water and sanitation is $6 – $42.
The people we are supporting certainly understand the economics of having a toilet. In Bangladesh and India, our beneficiaries are actually taking out small loans to construct toilets. Repaid loan funds are revolved, or lent out again, to provide another toilet construction loans. In Honduras and Ethiopia, where our beneficiaries do not operate on a cash economy, our local partners teach people how to build their own toilets.
This study does not include other factors that also motivate people to want a toilet, such as privacy. Where would you go to do your business if you had no toilet?
I enjoy reading these studies because it enables me to continue to back-up the work we do with solid scientific study. I also believe that changing the water and sanitation status quo for people in poor countries goes way beyond being the sensible thing to do. It’s the right thing to do.