Small-scale Solutions for Asia's Sanitation Problems

No matter how poor a community may be, technological and financial solutions are available for it to benefit from modern sanitation practices.

Water is the elixir of life, the element that sustains all known living organisms in their life cycle. Water is abundant in nature, covering up the majority of the planet we call home. Yet, freshwater resources, which give us drinking water, irrigate plants, and are often used to generate energy, are under threat on several fronts across Asia and the Pacific.

Water supply is approaching a crisis point in many Asian countries, as communities, industries, and farmers compete for this scarce resource. Against this backdrop, it is crucial that governments and communities learn how to make the most of their invaluable water assets.

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Water and hygiene

An area where there is room for making strides and realizing massive savings is that of wastewater management. In Asia and the Pacific, 1.7 billion people lack basic sanitation, while 780 million still practice open defecation near rivers and other places, posing severe health and environmental problems. Among them, 300 million people have mobile phones but do not have access to toilets.

"There are many reasons why sanitation is still a problem in Asia and the Pacific," says Jingmin Huang, senior urban specialist at ADB.

"Some communities consider human waste a taboo for cultural reasons, while the adoption of chemical fertilizers has changed the way some rural communities dispose of waste. At times, governments tend to think that sanitation is an expensive issue to tackle, although this is not necessarily the case."

Solutions, in fact, are at hand. No matter how poor a community may be, technological and financial solutions are available for them to benefit from modern sanitation practices. In particular, small-scale projects like localized septage management and decentralized wastewater management often are the best way to address the sanitation needs of small communities around the region.

Sanitation solutions are at hand

From Toilets to Rivers: Experiences, New Opportunities, and Innovative SolutionsDownload publication: From Toilets to Rivers: Experiences, New Opportunities, and Innovative Solutions

Despite the scale and gravity of the problem, examples of good sanitation practices in the region are aplenty.

ADB experts collected in a publication a series of new approaches and working models on sanitation and wastewater management from different countries.

"Not only do these projects illustrate how sanitation and wastewater management challenges can be addressed, but they also aim to inspire replication and show opportunities for actions and investments," says Jinmim. The publication was conceived to provide an analysis of all possible management strategies, so that practitioners can learn from others’ experiences, apply innovative approaches, and tap potential markets.

Supporting projects as well as disseminating knowledge

ADB's involvement in sanitation is not limited to the still crucial task of generating and disseminating knowledge. It is also directly involved in the development of sanitation projects across Asia and the Pacific.


In Bangladesh, with support from ADB, the country’s government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are tackling the challenge of creating a cleaner, healthier environment in the crowded slums of Dhaka and other urban centers.

A growing trend in the country is toward on-site sewage treatment systems and sludge management projects.

"Not only do these projects improve sanitation coverage and wastewater management,” comments Jingmin, “but they also show how sanitation solutions can be sustainable thanks to the engagement of local communities in general and women in particular."


In Yangon, Myanmar's largest city, urban services, such as sanitation, are in a poor state. Many homes do not have proper toilets. Fecal waste is discharged into gutters clogged with garbage, posing a serious health hazard.

Thanks to a small-scale pilot community project supported by ADB, one neighborhood in a poor community has improved sanitation facilities and hygiene practices, providing an example of how things can be done in the country.

New sanitation goals

Will Asia and the Pacific manage to meet the ambitious Millennium Development Goal 7 (MDG7), which aims to reduce by half the size of the population who do not have access to sanitation by 2015?

Experts believe that this is doable, though a paradigm shift is required toward performance-based and business-oriented solutions that include technological innovation, comprehensive financing, and efficient delivery mechanisms.

A lot has been done, and a lot remains to be done. And the goal of universal access to sanitation by 2025, which might replace MDG7, is already just around the corner.