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New UNICEF water and sanitation programme launched in Lao PDR

A typical Lao girl expressing a smiling face due to the availability of safe water supply
© UNICEF/Lao PDR
A typical Lao girl expressing a smiling face due to the availability of safe water supply

Vientiane, 23 November 2006

Despite great improvements in increasing access to water and sanitation facilities for those living in urban areas, many poor rural families in Lao PDR are still not being reached. In such families, it is children and women who suffer most from the lack of safe water and sanitary toilets. The country still has much catching up to do if it is to reach the water and sanitation targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Defining strategies to accelerate rural access to water and sanitation was the priority agenda of a joint Government-UNICEF meeting that took place in Thalad, Vientiane Province, from the 23rd November through to 25th November. Senior officials from the Ministry of Health, Nam Saat, Ministry of Education, and Lao Youth Union participated, along with Water and Sanitation programme staff from UNICEF.  

The meeting also discussed UNICEF’s new Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme and a joint cooperation programme from 2007-2011. The WASH programme will not only work with Nam Saat to continue expanding water supply and latrine coverage in rural villages and schools but will also stress the link between hygiene and the prevention of serious diseases, including child diarrhoea and bird flu. “The WASH sector is very important because of its impact on child survival and development. We very much appreciate the efforts of the government as we continue to advocate friends and partners for increased funding” said UNICEF Representative Ms. Olivia Yambi. The new WASH programme, approved by the Lao government, has already received financial assistance from Australia, Finland, Japan, New Zealand and Norway, though additional funds are still required to meet the enormous challenges. 

According to the UNICEF Report Card on Water and Sanitation, Progress for Children, released in September, major challenges must be met across the whole world to save the lives of the estimated 1.5 million children who die annually from diarrhoea. In Lao PDR, these challenges include wide differences between the facilities available to rural and urban people, and arsenic contamination in groundwater in areas of the south. Millennium Development Goal 7 – to ensure environmental sustainability – aims to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015. The population with access targets for 2015 are 80 per cent for safe water, and 65 per cent for sanitation, but investment in rural infrastructure needs to increase if all provinces in Laos are to meet this Millennium Development Goal.

The Government of the Lao PDR is committed to increasing national water supply coverage, and many advances have been made in the last decade. Safe water supply had by 2003 reached over 55 per cent of the population, compared to less than 20 per cent in 1995, while 37 per cent of people now have pour-flush toilets. However, many poor people still continue to rely on surface water for drinking, and the majority of rural people remain without toilet facilities. While national figures for water and sanitation coverage continue to improve, many districts in the countryside are lagging behind as the majority of investment in the sector is concentrated on towns and cities.

Lack of safe water and sanitary toilets not only affects children’s immediate health, but also their education and long-term prospects for health and life. Children who spend hours fetching water for their families can damage their bodies and have less time to study, while girls are less likely to attend schools that do not have suitable latrines.

According to UNICEF WASH programme officer Abdulai KaiKai, access to safe water and sanitation facilities needs to be recognized as a basic human right, and local communities must be more involved in the demand, design, construction, ownership and maintenance of facilities. “We aim to work with Nam Saat to help rural people get more involved in this vital issue,” said Mr KaiKai. “We are meeting with government experts and technicians to work out how to combine our efforts so that we have a better chance of meeting the Millennium Development Goals and improving children’s health. This is a vital issue that needs hard work and greater investment”.

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For more information, please contact:

Abdulai KaiKai, UNICEF Project Officer, WASH, Tel (+856-21) 315200 Email: akaikai@unicef.org
Southalack Sisaleumsak, UNICEF APO WASH, Tel (+856 21) 315201 Email: ssisaleumsak@unicef.org
Tabongphet Phoutavong, UNICEF Communication, Tel (+856 21) 315200 Email: tphoutavong@unicef.org

 

 
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