Skip to Main Navigation
FEATURE STORY September 16, 2019

GWSP – Concrete Action for Human Capital in Vietnam


  • Societies and economies need sanitation to thrive.
  • In Vietnam, the Global Water Security & Sanitation Partnership (GWSP) is focusing on this crucial issue.
  • Sanitation helps build human capital and GWSP’s work is making a real difference in this area.

In Vietnam, the Global Water Security & Sanitation Partnership (GWSP) is showing how physical capital can help build human capital. GWSP is tackling Vietnam’s sanitation challenge and in doing so, preparing today’s citizens for the economies of societies of tomorrow. 

Vietnam is one of GWSP’s nine priority countries, where investments are laser-focused to move the needle towards universal access. GWSP acts like a think tank or learning laboratory where insights gleaned and lessons learned inform not only World Bank projects across the globe, but strategic engagements with policy makers and key counterparts, other donors, non-government organizations, private investment, as well as academic institutions.

In Vietnam’s rural areas, around half of households and schools lack hygienic latrines while barely 1 in 10 people wash their hands with soap. And it is the youngest generation of Vietnamese whose potential is most negatively impacted by the lack of sanitation. Establishing and accelerating human capital – that is to say, the potential of individuals - can lead to social and economic gains for decades. 

In Vietnam, GWSP is providing vital knowledge, support and policy advice to support an effort to deliver vital rural sanitation in 21 provinces in Vietnam. More specifically, GWSP funds are being used to support Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in drafting a decree to clarify responsibilities for the operations and maintenance (O&M) of centralized rural schemes. 

This is incredibly important because while maintaining existing infrastructure grabs a lot less headlines than announcing new construction, the maintenance of this vital infrastructure has a positive impact on health, education and livelihoods for decades. O&M matters because an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure; after all, it’s much more cost-effective to make sure existing toilets, taps or pipes are working properly than to build or lay new ones. An O&M guideline developed thanks to GWSP funding has now been implemented across a number of Vietnam’s provinces.

A sector-wide monitoring and evaluation system has also been developed, which includes water supply and sanitation in schools. Funds from GWSP supported three government agencies in the development of new indicators for this, as well as corresponding platforms for the measurement of access to water and sanitation, service provision and sustainability.

"The benefits improved sanitation brings to health and the environment can potentially last generations."
Sudipto Sarkar
World Bank Practice Manager for Water in East Asia and the Pacific

While sanitation is crucial, it is not always inexpensive, especially for lower-income households. Given the high costs associated with building sanitation facilities, funds from GWSP supported all 21 provinces to mobilize the private sector to complement efforts to develop better sanitation services.  This effort focused on working with small local enterprises which were trained for the production, sale and maintenance of low-cost latrines. 

Sudipto Sarkar, the World Bank’s Practice Manager for Water in East Asia and the Pacific, explains why this is particularly important: “Improving sanitation also creates job opportunities as entrepreneurs and sanitation specialists are needed to ensure that systems and facilities are properly functioning. 

“The benefits improved sanitation brings to health and the environment can potentially last generations. Improving sanitation services with proper disposal is important to reduce health risks and avoid degradation of water and the environment.  Safely managed sanitation and hygiene services improve human capital as risks of disease reduce, especially for children.”

This Technical Assistance support is supplemented with funding to develop and implement behavior change campaigns such as ‘Be A Good Neighbor’, promoting sanitation and hygiene practices to households and schools. 

As GWSP Program Manager Joel Kolker says: “We see in Vietnam – and in our projects all over the world – that it’s insufficient to just build a toilet. We need to work with communities, households and government to change behaviors that may discourage people from building, using and maintain sanitary facilities.  This project shows there are successful and sustainable ways of doing this.”