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Photo: UNICEF Lao PDR/Jim Holmes

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Ensure access to water and sanitation for all

Projections from 2012 indicate that Lao PDR has achieved the MDG target on safe water and sanitation. In 2015, 76 percent of the population are estimated to have access to improved sources of drinking water. The estimate of coverage by improved sanitation is 71 percent. The high prevalence of open defecation is still a concern (38 per cent in 2011/12, and an estimated 23 percent in 2015).

The rural-urban gap has narrowed regarding the access to safe water but disparities remain significant. At national level in 2015, the gap was estimated as 17 percentage points. 

Inequities are far greater in sanitation than in water coverage. This may be because having improved sanitation facilities is not a priority amongst the poor, whereas clean water is universally desired. Sanitation coverage in rural areas is an estimated 38 percentage points behind that in urban areas in 2015. 

In 79 percent of households without water on the premises, females collect the water. This trend is more pronounced among poor rural families, families whose heads have little or no education and ethnic groups living in remote mountainous areas. 

The health and nutrition outcomes of unsafe water and inadequate sanitation are severe. Children living in households with safe water and sanitation are less prone to diarrhoea, stunting and underweight. Children living in rural villages where community members defecate in the open and/or use unimproved latrines are shorter than healthy children living in rural villages where everybody uses improved sanitation. This small difference in height is irreversible and matters a great deal for a child's cognitive development and future productive potential.

Water safety and water quality need increased attention, more so in towns and cities. In Lao PDR, surface water is the major water source for urban supply as most towns are located along the rivers. Lao PDR still has acceptable water quality in its rivers, but this is under increasing threat from pollution. The main causes are waste and sewerage from the growing population and urbanization, and run-offs from agricultural, industrial and mineral exploitation activities.

Urban sanitation is generally poor. Vientiane Capital suffers from the lack of adequate drainage and sewerage systems, and the poor design of existing sewerage disposal or septic tanks.

Universal access to clean water and sanitation is one of 17 Global Goals that make up the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. An integrated approach is crucial for progress across the multiple goals. Learn more about Goal 6 and its targets.

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