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A reliable water supply gives a new lease on life to the People of Laos PDR

At UNICEF, we know a safe and reliable water supply doesn’t just quench thirst - it saves lives, reduces illness, supports robust health services and bolsters national economies.  Most importantly, it breaks the cycle of poverty that keeps so many just on the brink of survival, especially children.  As part of our Child Survival Initiative, UNICEF works in more than 90 countries around the world to improve water supplies in schools and communities, promote safe hygiene practices, and create a sense of empowerment and possibility, ensuring children have a chance not only to survive but to thrive into adulthood. One of these countries is The Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

In some places around the world, children carry a heavy load. At only twelve years old, Sinsai began each day with a trek up hills and through rice paddies to the spring that was his village’s only source of clean water. His thin arms straining, he carried two buckets of water back to his mother two or three times daily and then made an additional trip to provide water for his school.  “At school,” he says, “every student must collect water not only for drinking but for use in the toilet and for the school garden.”

For people of Keung Village in The Lao People’s Democratic Republic, meeting the community’s water needs has been a struggle for as long as they can remember.  The task not only monopolized the village’s children; it also posed a health risk for the community’s vulnerable elderly, and reduced the productivity and development of the village as a whole.

Thankfully, in October 2010, this all changed.  Money provided by the Japan National Committee for UNICEF and the Japanese company AEON improved access to water and sanitation for three provinces in The Lao People’s Democratic Republic, including the village of Keung.  Keung’s new Gravity-fed System collects water from springs high up in the mountains and channels it into a reservoir tank before it is distributed to taps providing safe water to 30 of Keung’s homes.

Amazingly, the new system has created a new sense of community.  The initiative hasn’t just brought a source of safe water; it has also empowered villagers to take a more active role in their village’s development.  The villagers have ownership over their new water supply and are fully responsible for its future growth and sustainability.  When the water system needs to be expanded, the villagers of Keung hold a meeting to discuss the best source of safe water, and how reachable it is.  Then construction begins, using almost entirely locally sourced materials, such as sand, wood and stone.  UNICEF contributes technical support and specialized materials such as concrete and polyethylene piping. 

The positive outcomes of the initiative are hard to miss.  Not only does Keung now have a reliable source of safe water, increased productivity and a new sense of community and self-sufficiency, the convenience of the new village water tap system means that the burden of sourcing the daily water supply has been lifted. Children like Sinsai no longer have to spend hours a day doing the back breaking labour of carrying water.  Instead, Sinsai now enjoys the chance to be a child again - to focus on his studies and spend more time with his family, or even goof around with his friends - like any normal kid.