These days, aside from the water from the borehole and tube well, Kingkham’s family also gets a nearly steady piped supply from the state water authority.
For most Lao people, however, access to clean and safe water remains a problem. Many of them may have a bit of a wait, too, before they would be able to enjoy piped water like Kingkham’s family. While the government has included among its goals for 2020 the provision of piped water, that supply is aimed for 80 percent of the country’s urban population.
Some 1.36 million of Laos’s more than six million people are urban dwellers. At present, only 49.6 percent of this urban population has piped water.
Still, those like Avi Sarkar of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (U.N.-HABITAT)
"Water and sanitation is a very critical MDG (Millennium Development Goal) element," says Sarkar, who is U.N.-HABITAT’
In September 2000, leaders from 189 countries set to achieve eight development goals by 2015. Access to clean water, along with "significant"
The Lao government has prepared an urban water sector investment plan that would bring piped water to an additional 1.95 million urban inhabitants. The 266 million dollar project, which will be funded partly by international aid and loans, is expected to result in several new water supply stations.
"Urban people do not have access to enough water because the urban population is growing fast and the service industry like hotels and restaurants is growing, and each uses pumping machine to drive water into their tank," says Phouvong Chanthavong, water supply division deputy chief at the housing and urban planning department of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.
Officials estimate the country’s urban population growth rate to be between 4 and 5 percent a year.
"We would want to provide piped water to all because we cannot be sure how clean and safe the water from the ground is," says Phouvong, although the government has yet to include this among its goals. "You cannot tell just by looking with your eyes."
Buoakeo Suvanthong, deputy director of the National Centre for Environmental Health and Water Supply, in fact says, "There is arsenic contamination in the southern part of Laos, so it’s not safe to use groundwater in some parts."
He adds, "The water can get infected, polluted. So it’s best to test it."
"It really depends on the environment around the location you set up your tube well or borehole," says Buoakeo. "A borehole is cleaner than other sources, but you still need to test (the location) before you set it up, and you need to check it once or twice a year."
Official data show that 58 percent of the rural population depends on boreholes or tube wells for water while the rest rely on streams and rivers. Boreholes and tube wells are also popular among urban dwellers, given the state water authority’s difficulty in providing piped water to all households.
Boreholes and tube wells, however, can be expensive. It costs about two million kip (240 dollars) to put up a tube-well system, while a borehole can have a 4 million kip (486 dollar) price tag. The construction of both entails the use of machines for digging, plus water pumps and electrical connections, among others.
By contrast, piped water means a one-time expense of about 100 dollars, although there is also a monthly fee of around two dollars.
Most households with piped water, however, still boil the water for drinking or fit their faucets with filters. Some families, meanwhile, prefer to buy bottled water for drinking.
At times, the piped-water system bogs down, forcing families to turn to neighbours with tube wells or boreholes for temporary water supply.
But the ‘Lao PDR Environment Monitor’, a report done by different agencies in coordination with the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations Environment Programme, warns that water quality is "deteriorating"
"In urban areas," it says, "pollutants from roads, commercial and industrial areas, and private properties wash into drains and watercourses. Litter, dust, and dirt, oil and grease, rubber compound particles from tires, particles of metal, glass, and plastic from vehicles, and lead are common pollutants. Residential properties and open spaces contribute sediments and nutrients."
Bouakeo says people can contact his agency to check on an area’s water quality first before setting up a tube well or borehole. He says the centre can advise people on "different kinds of treatment options, such as filtering (or) using chlorine."
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