When former university professor Dr. Bounby Lasysamay returned to his childhood village in Xiangme, Lao People's Democratic Republic to enjoy his retirement, he found that his village had a drinking problem. In short order, Dr. Bounby witnessed just how difficult it can be to put a glass of clean water on the table.
The community members in the Xiengme village cluster, which consists of 5 villages in Saysomboun province in Lao People's Democratic Republic, had long struggled with drinking water contamination and decrepit water infrastructure systems. In order to clean their water, the women in the community worked long, hard hours to fell trees, haul the timber back to the village, prepare it for burning, and eventually boil the water to clean it.
Not only did this severely impact the health of the villagers, in particularly the women, who had to work and live in smoke-filled homes, it also took away from their time to do other things – such as looking after their families or tending crops to produce food or generate a livelihood. Additionally, the need to boil water to sanitise it had a negative impact on the local environment. Deforestation regularly results in land degradation, which has implications for aquifer recharge and watershed health long term.
To address these issues, Dr. Bounby gathered the village chiefs and encouraged them to apply for a grant from the Small Grants Programme. Together with NGO Association for Community Training and Development (ACTD) the community members created a plan to tackle the poor health and environmental degradation that resulted from the lack of clean water and dysfunctional water infrastructure. The project proposal was approved in September 2016.
With support from SGP, the community worked with the local government to delineate the watershed that supplies their drinking water and created a protected area to safeguard it. Together, they then made repairs to the gravity-fed water infrastructure system and expanded it to provide water to all 729 households in the Xiengme village cluster.
To reduce the impact on the local environment, ACTD introduced water filters. A select group of villagers were trained to install, maintain, and market the water filters to ensure that the project had some long-term viability, both in terms of a source of community income and to ensure that the filters could be repaired in case of malfunction. These installed in underserved households in the 5 villages for free and provided to the remaining households for a subsidised cost.
In the words of Dr. Bounby, “With support from the community, we were able to conserve 1,520 ha of the upstream watershed area to ensure sustainable water supply to the community. Downstream, our target at the beginning of the project was to ensure the supply of clean water to 378 households by supporting the installation of water filters. We surpassed all expectations, as 442 households are now using them. The use of firewood has decreased by 39%! 87% of the villagers using water filters have reported that their problems with diarrhoea and stomach aches have significantly reduced.”
The theme of World Water Week 2018, happening in Stockholm, Sweden from the 26th to the 31st of August, is “Water, Ecosystems and Development” – with a focus on the critical role of water in the ecosystems that life itself depends on.
A version of this story was first published as a UNDP Lao People's Democratic Republic Feature Story in June 2018.