Like Cambodia and Vietnam, the country of Laos is located in Southeast Asia. Being a landlocked country means that much of its water resources come from the Mekong River. Water sanitation has been an issue in the past, and now widespread action is being taken. There are many organizations that are coming together to bring clean, usable water throughout Laos. Here are 10 facts about water sanitation in Laos.

10 Facts About Water Sanitation in Laos

  1. The Creation of WASH FIT: In 2017, The World Health Organization partnered with UNICEF to create WASH FIT, which stands for “Water and Sanitation for Health Facility Improvement Tool.” Participants involved go into different hospitals to hold training programs and assess the current sanitation situation. The program provides information about safe water collection, along with supplies to build sanitation facilities. Through the WASH FIT program, sanitation in many Laos health centers and hospitals has increased by more than 50%. This has created a safer environment for both staff and patients.
  2. Increase in Safe Drinking Water: As of 2019, only 48% of schools in Laos had access to clean water. As more organizations – such as Abundant Water and Mercy Relief – continue to help better sanitation in Laos, the Lao PDR plan to keep increasing the percentage of individuals who have access to clean water.
  3. ICRC Brings Water to Urban Villages: Finding clean water and bringing it back to homes often requires strenuous work and a long trek. Of those traveling to get water, 79% are women. Many of the water sources that are used contain water-borne diseases, making much of the water in Laos dangerous to consume. The humanitarian group International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) aids these women by drilling boreholes, bringing clean water closer to homes.
  4. Laos is Home to Third Largest River in Asia: Though the water from the Mekong River is not suitable for drinking, it is the only source of water for many of the surrounding villages. Because of this, many people suffer from water-borne diseases, such as schistosomiasis. To decrease cases of schistosomiasis, The World Health Organization and The Ministry of Health are working together to bring clean water and sanitation facilities to villages. This will limit the need for water from the Mekong River.
  5. Hanwha Launches Project to Clean Mekong River: Like many rivers globally, the Mekong River contains an enormous amount of harmful pollutants. The Hanwha group in Vietnam started a campaign called Clean Up Mekong. They use solar-powered boats clean up trash as they sail down the river. Though the cleanup started in Vietnam, it will directly affect many places. The river flows not only through Vietnam and Laos, but much of Asia including Cambodia and China.
  6. Clay Water Filters are Used to Produce Clean Drinking Water: Thanks to an Australian organization called Abundant Water, clay water filters have been created and distributed to 12 different villages. These filters are used to produce clean drinking water. The organization then taught a five-week training program to local potters on how to create clay filters of their own. As a result of Abundant Water’s work, over 22,000 people have accessed safe drinking water.
  7. Increase in Access to Sanitation Facilities: In more rural areas of Laos, individuals may not have access to sanitation facilities, causing open defecation to be a major concern. The open defecation rate is the second-highest in the area. This has caused an increase in the spread of harmful diseases. Lao PDR and the World Bank have been working to supply rural areas with facilities to reduce open defecation. As of 2015, there is a 28% increase in the availability of sanitation facilities in urban areas and 39% in rural areas.
  8. Further Water Availability for Schools: Schools have suffered firsthand from the lack of water. Mercy Relief arrived in 2012 to install water filtration systems for schools throughout Laos. Through this work, more children have access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities now. They also use the water to start gardens to grow fruits and vegetables for the children and school staff to take home or sell at local markets.
  9. More Than 40 Water-Gravity System Installations: World Vision International has aided in the effort to build water-gravity systems that bring fresh water to rural villages. As of 2014, World Vision has supplied local villages with 46 water-gravity systems to help improve sanitation in Laos and lower the spread of harmful diseases.
  10. Start of Water Management Committees in Rural Village: An organization called Plan International has gone into northern Laos, bringing water tanks, pipelines and other water supplies. The organization has also started water management committees that are in charge of maintaining the water facilities. By showcasing the great impact water management committees have had on this particular community, the hope is that companies assist as other villages carry out similar plans.

Though there is still a long way to go, progress has been made. Companies and organizations around the world are working together to improve water sanitation in Laos.

– Olivia Eaker
Photo: Flickr

What do you think of when you think of NASA technology? “Space” is probably going to be the answer most people give, unless they’ve heard of SERVIR, the result of a partnership between NASA, USAID, the World Bank in Washington, and several other organizations.

Daniel Irwin, the director of the program, knows this better than anyone. “When people think of NASA,” he says, “they think of Mars Exploration Rovers or finding water on the moon, but a big part of our mission is to study earth from space, to advance scientific understanding and meet societal needs.”

SERVIR is actually not an acronym – it is taken from the Spanish word meaning “to serve,” because the goal of the initiative is to do just that.

By combining NASA’s technology and humanitarian groups’ understanding of what areas need what resources and what would benefit people the most, SERVIR is able to better serve the needs of populations.

The NASA website says that the resources developed by SERVIR can help governments and other agencies to more effectively “respond to natural disasters, [improve] food security, safeguard human health, [and] manage water and natural resources.”

SERVIR has hubs at locations throughout the globe, ad just this August, SERVIR-Mekong was launched in Bangkok, Thailand.

The Mekong river is located in Southeast Asia that acts as a major trade route to China. Depending on the seasons, the Mekong sometimes floods the surrounding area, leaving the residents of the Mekong area in severe need.

This is one of the reasons why Mekong was chosen as a location for this SERVIR project.

The Mekong center in particular was the result of NASA and USAID partnership with the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC.) This is a partnership that will work to make land use more sustainable and to monitor and (hopefully) decrease the effects of climate change.

For example, the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) is something that can be monitored with NASA technology. It is an indicator that comes from the amount of light reflected off of the surface of the earth based on the quantity and quality of plant life.

Areas that have lots of healthy vegetation will have a high NDVI and vice versa. Understanding the NDVI of an area can provide everyone from small farmers to forestry service personnel a better understanding of where to plant crops, develop urban centers, and more carefully preserve vegetation.

The power to help individuals and populations all over the world better respond to the effects of climate change extends to areas of food security and water resourcing as well. It truly is a remarkable innovation.

NASA technology can also be used to chart the course of natural disasters. For example, in the past, during hurricanes, it has allowed scientists to map out the paths of mudslides, which allowed them to understand which areas would be most affected and need the most help.

SERVIR’s track record has been vastly successful. Its team has worked with over 200 institutions in over 30 countries to develop local solutions, and to link local offices all over the globe in a network of ideas and innovations. Over 40 custom tools have been developed through the work of SERVIR.

It’s an excellent example of many of the tenets of humanitarianism: utilizing technology, creating partnerships, thinking big (even beyond the global scale) and dedicating existing resources towards a worthwhile cause.

As Irwin says, NASA technology and USAID’s resources together are helping to create “real time, real world applications that are changing the lives of people where they live.”

Emily Dieckman

Sources: USAID, NASA, Servir Global, Washington Post
Photo: AmericaSpace