17 April 2017

UNICEF seeks new solutions for sanitation in cold climate in Mongolia

©UNICEF Mongolia/2015/
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia - Poor sanitation and hygiene conditions were estimated to cost the Mongolian economy 35.5 billion MNT (US$ 26 million), or 0.5% of GDP.

With the population of only 3 million people, nearly half of Mongolians live in its capital and in poor and deprived areas around the city. Winter time in Mongolia is long and the temperature can go down as low as -40°C, with permafrost throughout much of the country for most of the year. In these challenging geographic conditions, access to basic social services is limited for the most vulnerable populations, and this is particularly true for water and sanitation. 

The national survey shows that in Mongolia only 27% of population use improved sanitation facilities, based on country specific definition, which excludes individual household outdoor latrines. Access to improved sanitation stands at 39% in urban areas, but only at 7% in rural areas. Open Defecation practices remain significantly high (25%) in rural areas, compared to urban (0.5%).

The situation is equally serious with regards to WASH in schools. The latest nationwide study available showed that only 22% of schools and dormitories have indoor WASH facilities. The remaining schools have outdoor latrines that are mostly unsafe and unhygienic. The majority of the school and kindergarten buildings in Mongolia were built between 1960 and 1990 and did not consider water and sanitation facilities. In addition, latrines also provide limited privacy for girls, and most latrines are located at some distance (over 50 m), which is difficult in winter season. 

UNICEF action in the community 

Dalaibayar is an active 12-year-old boy who lives in remote village of Tsagaan-Uur in Khuvsgul province in northern Mongolia. Tsagaan-Uur is located 180 kilometers, which takes five hours to drive, from Murun, the capital city of Khuvsgul province. In winter the district gets to minus 45 degrees Celsius. Due to the extreme weather providing water and sanitation facilities to the community is a challenge. Dalaibayar is one of many children there who has never used an indoor sanitation facility before.

Over the summer, new bathroom facilities were built at Dalaibayar’s school, with the support of UNICEF. Three new toilet blocks were built, two improved latrine facilities and one container bathroom with flushing toilets. Each toilet is in a separate stall and has a door which can be locked. All blocks are heated and there are hand washing facilities. 
©UNICEF Mongolia/2015/Sanjaakhand
“I like the new toilets very much,” he says. “They are very clean and I can wash my hands. You have privacy when you go to the bathroom and there is a hand dryer.”

Previously there was no separate toilets for boys and girls, and that the toilets had not been private with only wooden petitions between the stalls and no doors. Pit latrines are not heated and children often have to wait in line outside to use bathrooms. 

According to the school principle the community is very appreciative of the new facilities. “There is a lot of interest in the new facilities and how it works,” he explains. “Often people will come to have a look and see what has been done. This is the first time some of the children and parents are seeing an indoor toilet, so they want to go and see it even if they don't have to use it. “

The toilet facilities have incorporated technology that has never been seen before in the district. “There is a hand dryer in the toilets and before the children have only dried their hands using a towel,” the principle explains with a chuckle. “They had no idea how to use a hand dryer or what it was for. They thought the hand dryers were for their faces, so they would wash their faces and use the hand dryers to dry them. We had to teach them how to use it properly.” 

Boys are washing their hands at new WASH facilities
©UNICEF Mongolia/2015
Replicating the project

The new toilets in Tsagaan-Uur are part of UNICEF’s work to improve sanitation facilities at schools and kindergartens throughout Mongolia. UNICEF has been working in Khuvsgul and in Nalaikh, a peri-urban area of the country’s capital city Ulaanbaatar, to create examples of good sanitation facilities that can be replicated in other parts of Mongolia. 

Tumurbaatar Genderpurev is the Chairperson of the Governor’s Office in Khuvsgul aimag and a big supporter of UNICEF’s programme. “UNICEF has improved the sanitation in 12 schools in 12 districts,” he explains. “But the biggest impact is how the knowledge and ideas have spread to other districts. They now want to improve the toilets at their schools and the communities have identified this as an area they want more investment in from the government.”

As part of its new Country Programme with the Government, UNICEF plans to bring the successful model of WASH container house into five more provinces.

Addressing challenges of sanitation in cold climate

The reasons for such a poor performance in WASH in Mongolia are multiple, involving both institutional and structural factors. There is certainly need for improved budgetary allocations and better efficiency of public financial management and subnational financing, but it is also important to address elements that are intrinsic to Mongolia’s cold climate and adverse winter conditions and populations’ isolation. 

International Expert Consultation
©UNICEF Mongolia/2017/Mungunkhishig B.

Given Mongolia’s unique combination of remoteness and extreme climate, UNICEF in partnership with the Ministry of Health and National Public Health Centre has organized International Expert Consultation with the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. The two day consultation aimed to start a dialogue around best practices and innovation methods to improve children’s access to WASH services under extreme cold climate conditions as well as to introduce about affordable and accessible models of improved sanitation facilities for household and institutional use applicable to the Mongolian context. UNICEF’s container WASH facility was one of successful models presented during the meeting.

Mrs Tsogtsetseg Ayush, the Minister of Heath of Mongolia, has highlighted the importance of the consultation in her opening remarks and expressed her hope that the recommendations and solutions generated from the experts will aid the implementation of the Sustainable Development Vision of Mongolia 2030 goal that is "to increase access to improved sanitation facilities up to 60%”.

Poor sanitation has a direct health impact on children. Diarrhea causes 6 percent of mortality of under five children in Mongolia. Many infectious diseases can be prevented by having adequate sanitation” said Mr Roberto Benes, UNICEF Mongolia Representative during his opening speech. “In Mongolia, UNICEF plays an increasing role of knowledge broker and influencer of policy decisions by connecting to international best practices and world class technical expertise by facilitating horizontal dialogue. The consultation is an example of that. The consultation brings together best national and international experts in the field who will present innovative solutions, models and technologies that can be applied and replicated here in Mongolia”.

UNICEF Mongolia Representative Roberto Benes gives opening remarks
©UNICEF Mongolia/2017/Mungunkhishig B.
The two day consultation has put forward viable recommendations to improve provision of WASH services for children in both rural and urban areas and replication of models. UNICEF will continue to support the Government in improving sanitation in schools and kindergartens at community and policy levels.

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