Emergency in Laos: staying safe with clean water and sanitation

Staying safe with clean water and sanitation

Simon Nazer
Khao Yai, 12, in Ban Bok camp, Attapeu, Lao PDR.
UNICEF Laos/2018/Simon

19 September 2018

Many children like 12-year-old Khao Yai are struggling to come to terms with what happened late July when a dam breached in southern Lao PDR, displacing thousands of people. “I just remember water coming into my home and people shouting,” he says. “I don’t really remember much after that.”

Khao and his family are now staying in a temporary shelter in the remote camp of Ban Bok. The route to the village is treacherous: roads are knee-high in flood water and mud while the scattered remains of people’s household items – wardrobes, sacks of rice, televisions – lie strewn outside homes.

“We just had to go right away, we left everything,” recounts Khao. His experience is shared with over 4,000 other people who were displaced by the floods. During such emergencies, access to clean water and sanitation facilities becomes extremely important to ensure people stay healthy and clear of potentially life-threatening diseases.

Khao Yai, 12, uses a UNICEF- and USAID-supported tap in Ban Bok camp, Attapeu, Lao PDR.
UNICEF Laos/2018/Simon
Khao Yai, 12, uses a UNICEF- and USAID-supported tap in Ban Bok camp, Attapeu, Lao PDR. WIth USAID support, taps like this have been installed in camps around Attapeu to bring clean water to those affected by the floods.

That’s why UNICEF, with the support of USAID, is working to install water points (drilling boreholes with hand motorized pump) and toilets in camps like Ban Bok. In addition to this, USAID is supporting UNICEF to deliver psychosocial support to children affected by the floods.

“I’m just staying in a tent nearby,” says Khao, never short of a smile, while standing next to a newly installed water pump. “I’m spending time with friends and studying Lao language. I like football and we play a lot, although it’s very wet so it’s not easy.”

Together with the National and Provincial Centres in Saravane and Attapeu for Environmental Health and Water Supply, UNICEF has provided 35 water points (boreholes with hand and electric pumps and stand pipes) and constructed 13 latrines (7 in Ban Bok and 6 in Pingdong). Soap, tarpaulins, buckets, bowls and jerry cans have been distributed to all camps except those two inaccessible and 30 solar lamps from the Government of Australia will be soon installed in the camps, near the toilets. Hygiene promotion activities are also being carried out. 

At times of crisis, children like Khao are more susceptible to illness and death from diseases that are often caused by lack of sanitation, inadequate safe water and poor hygiene. Without access to basic water and sanitation services, and without the practice of good hygiene, the danger of diarrhoea, cholera and other disease outbreaks is high.

The support from UNICEF and USAID is ensuring access of affected populations to safe drinking water through the distribution of 200,000 water purification tablets to treat water.   

Two boys use a UNICEF- and USAID-supported tap in Ban Bok camp, Attapeu, Lao PDR.
UNICEF Laos/2018/Simon
Two boys use a UNICEF- and USAID-supported tap in Ban Bok camp, Attapeu, Lao PDR. WIth USAID support, tap like this have been installed in camps around Attapeu to bring clean water to those affected by the floods.

In addition to installing taps and toilets, UNICEF also helps affected communities to teach children and families the importance of handwashing to help stay clear of disease and illness.

“Our teacher already taught us how to wash our hands at school and I use the new tap a lot,” says Khao. “I’m also using the new toilet here, it’s much better than going out in the open.”

While it’ll take time to rebuild after what happened, delivering safe water and sanitation facilities to children like Khao, and their communities, is the first step to ensuring they stay healthy and happy.