VINH LONG (VNS)— Fourth grader Nguyen Thi Thanh Truc cannot be happier that a new toilet has been built in her school, located in Vinh Long Province's Vung Liem District.
"My classroom is next to the toilet. For two years, my classmates and I have suffered the bad smell. We had just two rooms each for males and females."
The new toilet has eight individual rooms and one reserved for teachers. Truc's happiness is shared by 140 other students.
In fact, the shortage of toilets is a common problem in the Mekong Delta. Many schools and households still use facilities that are sub-standard.
Tran Dac Phu, general deputy director of the Ministry's Health Environment Management Agency, said a major hurdle to solving the problem was low awareness among many locals, who do not see a need to improve their toilets.
"They do not see it as a serious problem. They think it is very normal," he said. This mindset needs to be changed urgently, he added. Phu said the ministry is currently studying plans to help poor people build quality toilets at cheap prices as well as implement programmes to enhance awareness of the importance of hygiene in daily lives to promote good health and prevent diseases.
The ministry will co-operate with individuals and organisations in the country and abroad in carrying out these plans, he said.
The World Toilet Organisation and the Unilever conglomerate, which owns the Vim brand, have presented free toilets to 100 poor households and nine schools in Vinh Long recently.
The province also hosts the Vim Toilet Academy that aims to spread basic knowledge on hygiene and health among local people, apart from teaching local workers how to build cheap-priced toilets, creating new jobs in the process.
Jack Sim, President of the World Toilet Organisation, said that with the new technology, a toilet would cost only about US$45. By the end of next year, they expect to provide 10,000 toilets to local residents, he said.Similar programmes will later be implemented in other provinces nation-wide, he added.
The Ministry of Education and Training has pledged more investments in upgrading school toilets.
"Currently, many schools in the country have no toilet. In the coming time, the ministry will re-arrange its budget to assist schools, especially those in rural and remote areas, to build toilets," said Ha Huu Phuc, deputy director of the Ministry of Education and Training's office for the southern region.
A Ministry of Health report estimates that 55 per cent of households and more than 80 per cent of school and health centres nation-wide have toilets that meet hygiene and safety standards set by the ministry.
"By 2015, the country targets to increase these figures to 65 per cent and 100 per cent respectively. To fulfil this goal, we need to build 1.5 millions toilets from now to 2015," Phu said. — VNS