UN dialogue: sustainable development needed to transform Asia-Pacific’s least developed countries

6 March 2015 – Transforming the lives of some 300 million people in the least developed countries in Asia and the Pacific “is not about ticking the boxes on a few variables,” but to ensure that economic growth and development is sustainable to lift the millions above the extreme poverty line, a senior United Nations official in the region said today.

That was among conclusions at the three-day High-Level Asia-Pacific Dialogue on the Implementation of the Istanbul Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) for the Decade 2011-2020 in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

“Graduation is not about ticking the boxes on a few variables alone to move beyond least developed country status,” said Dr. Shamshad Akhtar, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

“It’s about real transformation of the lives of the 293 million people living in our 12 LDCs, of whom 113 million remain below extreme poverty line, with high exposure to natural disasters, and about the 130 million who have yet to enjoy access to education, health and other basic services,” Ms. Akhtar said.

According to ESCAP, the greatest challenge facing the Asia-Pacific least developed countries is to promote inclusive and sustainable growth and development for reducing poverty and improving the quality of life of the people.

“In these countries, such growth requires measures to accelerate growth with structural transformation, diversifying their economies towards manufacturing and services, along with a focus on increasing agricultural productivity and promoting rural development, strengthening social protection, and enhancing financial inclusion especially of the poor and disadvantaged groups,” ESCAP said.

A clear message from the three-day meeting was that least developed countries, development partners and the UN system must meet the commitments and implement the actions agreed in the Istanbul action plan, including those related to mobilizing financial resources for development and capacity building.

The meeting’s outcome document will be delivered by the Government of Cambodia to ESCAP’s 71st Commission session for its consideration as the basis for the regional mid-term review ahead of the global mid-term review of the programme of action to be held in 2016.

The Fourth UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries, held in Istanbul, Turkey in 2011, adopted the Istanbul Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2011-2020.

It sets out actions to be undertaken by the least developed countries and their development partners in eight priority areas of action, each supported by concrete deliverables and commitments. These priority areas are: productive capacity; agriculture, food security and rural development; trade; commodities; human and social development; multiple crises and other emerging challenges; mobilizing financial resources for development and capacity-building; and governance at all levels.

Market solutions to Cambodia’s toilet troubles

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Nurturing supply-demand connections is key

PHNOM PENH, 5 June 2014 (IRIN) – Having money in your pocket does not translate into a toilet in your home, so Cambodian sanitation campaigners are trying new ways to encourage latrine construction in a country where years of awareness and subsidy campaigns have not been flush with success.

“The economy has grown fast, but sanitation hasn’t grown accordingly. So it’s not related to money and economics,” Py Sophal, deputy director for rural health care at Cambodia’s Ministry of Rural Development, told IRIN.

“Even when there is a demand, we often see there is no [realistic] supply. So we need to create a demand-and-supply system.”

According to the Ministry of Rural Development, 61.5 percent of rural households lack toilets. And poor sanitation correlates with child stunting due in part to the health risks associated with open defecation, a 2013 assessment by the World Bank found.

Research by the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Programme published in 2012 argued that more than half of the Cambodian households that lack a latrine could, in fact, afford one. However, sanitation schemes were failing both to facilitate access to affordable suppliers for the families with means, and target poor households with the loans and subsidies they needed.

The key, aid workers and officials say, is demonstrating to consumers not only that they should build a latrine, but that they can afford to do it — there are inexpensive local suppliers as well as credit options and subsidies. And, for suppliers, proving that reasonable pricing and targeted outreach can drive business.

Purchasing power

“The real constraints [keeping people from building latrines] are similar to ‘I know I should exercise, but there is no gym nearby – or no affordable gym’,” said Geoff Revell, regional program manager at WaterSHED, a Phnom Penh-based organization that works on water and sanitation marketing in Southeast Asia. In 2010 the organization began working to build markets for latrines in rural Cambodia.

Low prices drive big business

Latrines, Revell said, were often too difficult to acquire and assemble and, priced at between US$250 and $400, they were perceived to be something only available for the wealthy. Cambodia’s GDP per capita is around $950.

“We said to the suppliers: ‘Lower your price a lot, lower the margin, but increase the volume, and you will sell more’,” Revell explained, adding that they encouraged suppliers to offer a complete package, including installation, for around $45. In the past four years, WaterSHED has facilitated the sale of 75,000 toilets in 59 of Cambodia’s 171 districts, they say.

Nationwide, latrine coverage has been increasing by 1.3 percent per year in recent years – a growth rate at which it could take more than 60 years for the country to be “Open Defecation Free” (or “ODF”), meaning every home and public structure contains a toilet. But according to WaterSHED, in districts where they have been nurturing market-based approaches, the annual coverage increase reaches up to 7 percent.

Rath Chan Thin, a toilet salesperson in Kompong Chhnang province said in the past she would sell no more than 25 toilets a year.

“Now people buy the toilets. In the last year, I have sold 650 toilets,” she said, pointing to her dip in price and community sales events that bring suppliers and local residents together for toilet product demonstrations.

Visible impact

Phoeung An, a widow and mother of three in Kompong Speu Province who bought a latrine in early 2014, said she noticed her children were already getting sick less frequently than before they had the toilet.

“Before we had a toilet, we went to the forest and paddy fields near my house. We had fever and diarrhea more often than now,” Phoeung said, adding that she purchased the toilet with a microfinance loan.

“We paid 21,000 riel (US$ 5.25) for the first month. The mortgage keeps decreasing each month. We only have three months left to pay,” she explained, adding that in her village of 160 families, about 100 had acquired a latrine through similar loans.

Revell believes making prices fair and credit accessible, while targeting subsidies only at the very poor, is the way forward for community-level uptake of toilet construction.
“Only a few will be so poor that they cannot get $40 together. If you already sold to the majority and give a subsidy to the rest, that’s much more sustainable,” he said.

dh/kk/oa