20 January 2011   |  
Posted By: Ilana Martin

Success: It’s in the toilet

10,000 of them, actually. Congratulations to IDE Cambodia, for facilitating sales of 10,000 IDE EZ Latrines in just over a year.

10,000 Easy Latrines sold

IDE Cambodia staff celebrate the 10,000 Easy Latrine milestone

Here’s the full story from IDE Cambodia:

Phnom Penh, Cambodia – January 14, 2011 – In only a little over a year, IDE’s Sanitation Marketing Project in Cambodia has reached a landmark of 10,000 latrines sold. This marks more latrines sold in the project areas in the past year than in the last four years combined, a tremendous step forward in public health for a country where only 18 percent of the rural population has access to a toilet.

What is even more remarkable about the Sanitation Marketing Project’s success is that all the latrines were sold without any price subsidy. Instead, the Sanitation Marketing Project has applied market principles and world-class product design to the challenge of rural sanitation in Cambodia.

A common local latrine, which could run up to $150, was well beyond the means of the average rural Cambodian, whose average annual income is a mere $135. With help from IDEO designer Jeff Chapin, IDE redesigned the latrine to make it more user-friendly—easy to buy, easy to build, and easy to use. The resulting “Easy Latrine” costs only about $35 and can be assembled by the families themselves in a day.

“The project began by treating people as customers rather than beneficiaries of charity,” said Michael Roberts, Country Director for IDE Cambodia, “and we have seen that many rural Cambodians are able and willing to pay for something that delivers real value.”

The latrine redesign is integrated with a social marketing campaign to stimulate demand. By marketing the latrine as a status product instead of lecturing people about the health woes of defecating in the fields, the Sanitation Marketing Project triggered people’s universal desire for “keeping up with the Joneses.”

Previously an unsexy product, the rapid growth in demand is now being met by local entrepreneurs in the latrine supply chain who have been trained by IDE in efficient production methods, business skills, and proactive methods for generating sales. There are now 22 Easy Latrine producers, who have inspired ambitious competitors to also join in the booming latrine market.

Not only has the Sanitation Marketing Project made tremendous strides in improving rural sanitation in Cambodia, it has done so by leveraging the market and improving the livelihoods of local entrepreneurs. The program has been recognized internationally for its success, winning the International Design Excellence Award and recently being inducted to the World Toilet Organization’s Hall of Fame.



22 January 2011 4:11 pm

I read your story with interest, but it left me with a question. The math makes no sense. If a family earns $135 per year. You say that the $35.00 toilet is realistically priced. Well- it sounds like a great idea, but how does a family decide to give over 26% of their annual income to that over purchasing , for example, food or clothes? Is that possible?


23 January 2011 4:11 pm

I agree the economics of your success do not make sense. Unless, the local producers and suppliers have found much cheaper ways to make similar products for less cost and are selling them for a lot less. An American family with poverty level earnings can buy a toilet for less than 1% of their annual income.

Michael Roberts

26 January 2011 4:11 pm

Response by Michael Roberts, Country Director, IDE Cambodia.

Thanks for the comments from Judith and Jeff.

The $135 quoted above is the GDP per person (estimates vary by source but this one seems reasonable by our observations) so an average household of 5 people would have an income of about $675 per year. This makes the cost of the Easy Latrine closer to 5% of annual income: still high, but within reach for many families.

In fact, during our research, we found that we could have designed a $10 toilet but that virtually no one would have purcahsed it. Cost is one of the reasons that people don’t have latrines but is definitely not the only reason. This was evidenced by the fact that, before we began the project, about 7% of very poor households already had latrines that they purchased themselves and that the majority of rich households did not yet have a latrine.

The key to convincing more households to invest their own money into sanitation has been to raise latrine ownership on their priority lists and to make the purchase process as quick and painless as possible. Currently, we are also experimenting with financing mechanisms to make latrines accessible to even more people.


4 February 2011 4:11 pm

I saw this BBC segment and follow up with interest. I am starting a research project with other partners on pig production and related health, including human health in Laos. The key diseases are taeniasis and indirectly cysticercosis, amongst of course other faecal and hygenic issues. My question: I am yet to check with WHO or other relevant NGOs but do you have any sights on establishing a similar programme in Laos? In the lower status and minority villages there is significant need.

portable toilet guy

17 February 2011 4:11 pm

Hello! I stumbled upon your post while searching for portable toilets for my company. May I just take the opportunity to say what a fantastic project. Toilets are such a basic human requirement. My father was brought up in a slum in North Manchester during WWW2 and had to share one outside toilet with another family (18people in all); it made such a bad impression on him that he now lives in a house with 3 loos and he has even installed one in his garage.

Rob Hutter

18 February 2011 4:11 pm

I would be interested to see Drawings or photos for maybe producing such a concept in other areas of the World.

Has anyone such info

Jim Grant

7 March 2011 4:11 pm

I’d love to get some construction plans for a project we’re undertaking in Le Pretre, Haiti, a small village on the SW peninsula with no services at all right now. Anything outside of Port au Prince is pretty much off the radar for 99% of the aid agencies.

Aaron Langton

9 March 2011 4:11 pm

Jim, send us a message via the inquiries form on our website and we’ll try to put you in touch with the right people:


17 March 2011 4:11 pm

You pour water into the top part which is the filter. It is passed through into the bottom receptacle. Most contaminants are bigger than the tiny pores in the filter.

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