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Development Projects in LaosThe small, landlocked country of Laos is one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia. Home to 6.6 million people, Laos is also a fast-growing emerging market that registered 7 percent GDP growth in 2016. The Laotian government is embarking on ambitious development projects to build up new infrastructure and energy sources in the least developed country in the region. Here are five development projects in Laos:

The Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s Livestock and Economic Development Project

In northern Laos, the ADB is helping empower local women by providing them with livestock so that they can economically sustain themselves and their families. The Livestock Development Project disburses $16.5 million through various regional projects across the country, with funds contributed from the ADB and other international aid agencies. Ever since it began in September 2006, the project has helped women play more important roles in their families and local communities.

The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP)’s Climate Change Readiness Project

The U.N.’s Green Climate Fund is supporting the Laotian government in seeking solutions to climate change and improving the county’s access to renewable energy. The UNDP has pledged a funding programme as part of its Readiness and Preparatory Support Programme, an 18-month project designed to help local stakeholders across the government and different sectors of the economy to reform the agricultural sector, forestry and environmental practices in local communities. Environmental development projects in Laos arising from the programme will hopefully aid Laos in its fight against the effects of climate change.

High-Speed Rail Link to China and Thailand

As part of the high-profile “One Belt, One Road” initiative, China is investing $6 billion on a rail line connecting Thailand to the southern Chinese city of Kunming — with 420 kilometers running through Laos, connecting towns and cities throughout the country. While the project will surely increase connectivity, the rail line has been criticized for its displacement of locals living along the line, including the eviction of over 4,400 Lao families from their homes. While only 14 percent completed, the project has provided employment for over 7,000 local Lao workers and is contributing to infrastructure development in the poorly connected country. The line is one of many high-profile development projects in Laos currently under construction, including major hydropower plants.

The World Bank’s Mekong Integrated Water Resources Management Project

The Mekong River is one of the longest rivers in Southeast Asia, and is an important water source and vital artery in Laos and neighboring countries. The World Bank’s Mekong Integrated Water Resources Management Project seeks to coordinate closer collaboration between Laos and its neighbors on access to water in the Lower Mekong Delta, particularly in improving the management of water resources and fisheries in the densely populated region. The initiative also includes development projects in Laos to improve the sustainability of the Mekong river basin’s water resources and improve the management of floods.

The World Bank’s Health Governance and Nutrition Development Project

The World Bank is expanding access to health and improved nutrition in Laos by contributing $15 million in additional financing to healthcare development projects in Laos. The funding will support the modernization of healthcare information systems and efforts to increase access to reproductive care, maternal care and healthcare for children. Since launching in 2015, foreign governments including Australia and Japan have since pledged $5 million for an immunization drive and reforms in the healthcare sector in Laos.

Laos is relying both on international organizations and aid groups as well as on its wealthiest and largest neighbor, China, in pursuing both economic development and a way out of poverty for millions of its citizens. Expanded access to healthcare and water resources through World Bank projects are just two of many development projects in Laos as the country pursues greater human development to go along with its rapid pace of economic growth.

– Giacomo Tognini

Photo: Flickr

Water quality in BarbadosBarbados was an uninhabited island in the Caribbean until the British settled the island in 1627. Slaves were taken there from Africa to work in the sugar plantations. Slavery was abolished in 1834, but the economy remained largely dependent on sugar, rum and molasses during most of the 20th century.

Barbados has moved from an economy heavily dependent on agriculture to one focused on manufacturing and tourism. Although the economy has shifted, the sugar industry still plays an important role in the economy. Besides sugarcane, farmers also grow cotton, root crops and vegetables.

Water quality in Barbados can be compromised by pollution from agriculture, industry and urban development. The island nation is listed as a water-scarce country because of the depletion of the water reserves during the 20th century. To address this, strict standards were developed for the use of drinking water. Because of the high demand for water on the island coupled with an inadequate supply, the nation built a desalination plant in 2000. Despite this, the water quality in Barbados is still questioned.

The Daily Herald reported in 2016 that there were rumors circulating on social media suggesting that contaminated water was responsible for a string of deaths during the summer of 2016. According to the rumors, there was lead in the newly installed water meters.

The Barbados Water Authority responded with a statement saying that the meters contained no lead. They were made from plastic and brass and manufactured in Germany. The water meters were approved by the German Environmental Agency under the German Drinking Water Ordinance of 2013.

They also stated that the meters were being used in 22 other countries including France, Spain and Ireland. In addition, the water supply is tested twice a year for heavy metals and pesticides. Tests conducted in March 2016 showed that lead levels were under the limits and drinking water was within standards.

The government of Barbados created a policy that designated five Groundwater Protection Zones around the island. This helped protect public supply wells from contamination from bacteria, which is a significant step towards improving water quality in Barbados.

– Fernando Vasquez

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Benin

Home to almost 11 million people, the West African country of Benin has made great strides in improving access to clean water over the past three decades. The improved water quality in Benin is a leading example of how governments can work with foreign donors and local municipalities to increase water supply and quality to all citizens.

Beginning in the 1990s, the Beninese government expanded water coverage beyond the two largest cities to rural areas, decentralizing and adopting a strategy of responding to local demand in 1992. Rural water coverage in 2006 was at 53 percent and urban coverage at 78 percent, higher than the average for other African countries. Benin reached its 2015 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of 76 percent access to improved drinking water nationwide.

New national water strategies announced in 2005, 2006 and 2007 devolved power over water and sanitation services to local municipalities. A national water utility named SONEB was established in 2007 to coordinate the water supply between the central government, international donors and local authorities.

These efforts attracted the support of foreign donors, with the World Bank pledging $68 million in 2016 to finance water and sanitation services in cities and small towns across Benin. The project will connect almost half a million people to the water network and improve sanitation for over 700,000, an important landmark in a country where water treatment is still severely underdeveloped.

Despite the success in expanding access, water quality in Benin requires further investments to bridge the gap between urban and rural communities. The World Bank project builds on a successful trial of public-private partnerships in three Beninese municipalities in 2014.

The Beninese government is now targeting the quality and treatment of drinking water. Wastewater treatment is not widely practiced in Benin, and authorities plan to establish a new regulatory agency to improve water hygiene and water services.

– Giacomo Tognini

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in MonacoMonaco, known for its famous casino in Monte Carlo, is noted as the second smallest country in the world after Vatican City. The country’s natives are known as Monegasques and are considered the minority group because wealthy foreigners make up the majority of Monaco’s population. While it is a small country bordered by France and the Mediterranean, water quality in Monaco is of utmost importance. There is constant monitoring of water and air pollution to make sure that the quality is of high standards, especially in water quality of its beaches.

Monaco’s environmental circumstances are considered to be very good, especially after the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation became active in June of 2006. The charity-based foundation has dedicated about 25 percent of its annual grantmaking budget to global development issues related to water shortage, deforestation and desertification.

The foundation has made ocean protection as one of the priorities for action, with marine life and water quality in Monaco being the main focus.

In May of 2017, a pollution threat was handled immediately after it occurred. An accidental oil spill on the Portier sea extension site was dealt with as soon as it was discovered. By using a dam to contain any pollution, a skimmer to pump the spilled oil and absorbent rods to mop up any traces of the oil that drifted away before the dam was installed, workers were able to clean the water of all pollution and oil.

Monaco has been known to have beautiful, clean white sand beaches, yet recommends to avoid swimming after heavy rainfall for 48 hours, due to any pollution that could have pulled in after a storm. It also has a sea-farming area in its water, where it annually produces over 800 tons of fish grown in clean water.

The country is held to high standards when it comes to water quality in Monaco, while actively being in marine sciences. Monaco is known to have clean water all around the country, with acceptable tap water to drink, even though it has an aftertaste of chlorine that can give stomach problems. It is recommended that visitors drink bottled water during the first couple weeks of their trip.

The country may be small, but due to active involvement in the environment and marine sciences, the water quality in Monaco is of great standards. As long as the care continues for the Prince Albert II of Monaco foundation and outside sources, Monaco should never see a problem with cleanliness or pollution in their water.

Stefanie Podosek

Photo: Flickr

Water quality in Macedonia
A landlocked nation of mountains, lakes and historic buildings, the Republic of Macedonia is located on the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe. Macedonia has the distinction of being among the few countries in the world of meeting the water access and sanitation needs for 100 percent of the urban population. In other words, everyone in its urban areas is provided with safe drinking water.

Water is used for electric power, agriculture, industrial and municipal purposes. There is no inexpensive substitute for this precious resource, so measures increasing water efficiency and reducing waste are desperately needed with the looming effects of climate change. According to the Green Growth study, by 2050, all water basins in Macedonia will see a decline in mean annual runoff despite having an increased water supply through 2020.

Increased temperatures mean greater evaporation of water from lakes and reservoirs, thus less water is available for general or industrial use. A World Bank study found that Macedonian crops are adapting to increased temperatures by demanding water a month earlier than they normally do. Additionally, water used for cooling purposes in the thermoelectric sector is greatly stressed, reducing its availability. By 2050, hydroelectric production is slated to sharply decline from about its current production levels of 1,500 gigawatt-hours to 1,100 gigawatt-hours.

Consistent with the international standards, Macedonia conducts tests on its waters for the presence of physical, chemical, biological and even radiological elements. Eighty percent of Macedonians have access to wastewater, yet only 10% of the sewage is treated with the rest being discharged into the three lakes and four river basins in the country. In these situations, water quality in Macedonia could use further improvements.

In 2014, the Woman Engage for a Common Future (WECF) Project devised Water and Sanitation Safety Plans to “encourage the population to promote local action for the improvement of water supply and sanitation systems.” This plan is to be done by engaging local residents, government officials, teachers, students, and the young of the rural populations of both Macedonia and Romania.

Problems remain, however. While 99% of Macedonian households have a central water supply system, an inadequate water infrastructure with aging water pipes has deteriorated the condition of the water supply system. This has had a disproportionate impact on both rural and urban areas: according to the U.N. Human Settlements Programme, 23% of residents do not have access to good water quality in Macedonia.

Of the water emerging from karst aquifers, 80% is inundated by rainfall runoff and surface water. In rural areas, additionally, usage of pit latrines is common and access to safe water sanitation is difficult if not unavailable.

In the past, the most frequent water-borne diseases found in the water supply facilities were diarrhea, intestinal typhus and paratiphuses, and infective hepatitis A. Water-related diseases with infective elements, such as leptospirosis and malaria, have also been found in epidemic, endemic and hyperendemic forms.

To efficiently preserve its water resources and promote its sustainable and safe use, Macedonia needs to invest in its current irrigation infrastructure, incorporate farmer training to minimize water losses, and find ways to prevent, detect and repair water system leaks.

Increasing water demands require greater public awareness of the limited resources and the state of water quality in Macedonia. Together with growing environmental protection, the level of public concern is also increasing. Macedonia is already one of the few countries in the world with very high access to safe drinking water. The country needs to maintain its commitment to improving safe drinking water access for all of its population by 2020.

Mohammed Khalid

Photo: Google