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Issues: Asia

Water Quality in Lao PDR

by Olivia Yang

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic, more commonly known as Laos, is a socialist state with a population of 6.7 million people. The only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, it is also one of poorest nations in South East Asia.

The Mekong river, the “Mother River”, is the country’s principal water source. For some communities, it is the only source, posing a problem that can become a high-risk factor for contracting water borne diseases. Due to the widespread use of the river by agricultural, domestic, and industrial sectors, the river serves as a reservoir for chemicals and waste which can facilitate the proliferation of bacteria. As the main resource for farming and livestock rearing, the Mekong’s accessibility can do more harm than good for those that use the river for bathing, water collection, and other washing chores. Swimming and bathing in freshwater lakes, streams, and rivers like the Mekong can lead to water contact diseases like hepatitis A, hepatitis E, typhoid fever, leptospirosis, and schistosomiasis.

A common practice in the Lao PDR, rural areas in particular, is open defecation. This occurs without much concern due to the lack of measures taken to educate rural communities of its serious health risks. Diseases like schistosomiasis, typhoid, cholera, and trachoma can be transmitted via open defecation. Though actions have been taken to improve the quality of sanitation and hygiene practices throughout Laos, “only 48% of primary schools and 25% of health facilities have access to safe drinking water and sanitation”.

One of the leading causes of water borne disease is thought to be the proliferation of pathogens in major bodies of water like the Mekong, which comes as a result of the economic growth that the country is experiencing. The socio-economic developments in Laos largely drive the industrial exploitation of minerals and toxins into the Mekong. The large increase in hydropower dam constructions have also disrupted water quality, displacing fertilizer and chemicals that encourage bacterial growth and contaminate the water.

The underlying problem regarding water

health in Laos is the nation’s underdeveloped infrastructure which makes it difficult to educate communities of threats to public health disguised as daily routines.

Crisis Spotlight- Vietnam

By Sahisna Suwal

Located in the Southeastern part of Asia, Vietnam’s population totals to over 86 million with an estimated GDP per capita of $3100. Vietnam is the 13 most populous country in the world and almost two-thirds of its people live along the country’s three main river basins- Thai Binh, Mekong Delta and Dong Nai.

Vietnam has 2360 rivers totaling to more than 10 km and it would appear that this should provide copious supply of water to the nation. However, due to the lack of physical infrastructure and financial capacity there is low utilization of the supply along with an uneven distribution of rain fall resulting in water shortages throughout the country. Although Vietnam has improved its water supply situation in the past few decades, many rural parts of the country who are often the poorest communities, have not seen significant improvement. It is reported that only 39% of the rural population has access to safe water and sanitation. The rural population has moved from using surface water from shallow dug wells to groundwater pumped from private tube wells. In the Northern region of Vietnam around Hanoi, there is evidence of arsenic contamination in the drinking water. About 7 million people living in this area have a severe risk of arsenic poisoning and since elevated levels of arsenic can cause cancer, neurological and skin problems, this is a serious issue.

In addition, due to the rapid economic development in Vietnam, river water quality has been affected along with an increased concentration of various toxins in the water. The surface water in the rivers is locally polluted by organic pollutants such as oil waste and solids. There is also pollution from untreated waste water released by industries and agriculture activities. The geography and topography of Vietnam also makes the country susceptible to natural hazards such as typhoons, storms, floods and drought. This then leads to a multitude of problems such as water pollution and waterborne diseases along with an impact on agricultural lands and livestock. Both the environmental pollution in these river basins and natural disasters affects the nation’s public health. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment state that almost 80% of the diseases in Vietnam are caused by polluted water. There are many cases of cholera, typhoid, dysentery and malaria each year in the country.

It is without doubt that agriculture has the largest burden on water resources in Vietnam. Vietnam is one of the richest agricultural regions in the world and a top producer and consumer of rice. Currently, water used for agriculture purposes take up over 80% of total water production. Paddy rice is the primary crop that takes up a majority of the total irrigated area. Fisheries, aquaculture, industries and services also contribute to water demand increase.

Water resources are very significant, especially natural water sources in the rural areas of Vietnam as they are the sources of economic, social and cultural activities. The government of Vietnam is tackling the water resources management issues in the country by implementing policies and programs relating to this. Some of the challenges that still exist include improving access to clean water and sanitation for both urban and rural population, improving public participation and knowledge and strengthening river basin management.

For additional information or resources, contact Sahisna at:

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