Asbestos is widely known as a health hazard. In Vietnam, the construction sector uses 54,000 tons of asbestos annually, ranking one of the top importers of ‘fibro cement.’ Because of the low cost, most of the supply goes to low-income and vulnerable populations unaware of the health risks of exposure to friable airborne asbestos.
Funded through the U.S. Tithe, Habitat Vietnam integrated Zero-Asbestos Villages into the disaster response project to the successive storms that affected thousands of households in the Central region. Aside from the need to build back better, the blown asbestos roofing sheets exacerbated the communities’ health risk, requiring tailored developmental interventions rather than a one-off housing response.
Habitat Vietnam adopted principles from the Community-led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach to facilitate shifting the focus from individual households to creating an “asbestos-free” mindset within the target villages.
In partnership with the Vietnam Red Cross, Habitat Vietnam established community-based communication groups that underwent a participatory process to develop behavioral change communication, which resulted in a holistic awareness program.
The community-wide education included group discussions and events on safe housing, raising awareness on the dangers of using asbestos-containing materials, facilitating the communities to recognize the problem, and take collective action through the support of monitoring groups. The housing intervention served as a demonstration adding to the trigger of behavior change of the entire community on asbestos. The pilot served over 3,000 people and mobilized the local government to provide safe locations to store asbestos sheets and debris.
The replication of Zero-Asbestos Villages is underway, aiming to serve ethnic minorities living in the highlands and expanding the program to increase access to affordable and safe materials and policy influence.