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Lao water atlas

Updated: Feb 6, 2023

The current global health crisis is a reminder of how vital water is to us. In France and abroad, solidarity associations have mobilised to guarantee access to water for all populations and thereby stem the risk of spreading COVID-19. Internationally, NGO campaigns such as "End Water Poverty" are initiated to treat the water crisis as a global health emergency. Aware of the continuum between health and access to water, Peuples et Montagnes du Mékong also complements its medical training with water supply projects.

As COVID-19 highlights our dependence on water, our resources are drying up. As we leave the summer of 2020, the temperature and natural hazard record confirms the fears. Courrier International published its weekly magazine with the alarming title "Bientôt un monde sans eau ?" at the start of the 2019 school year. One year later, they are back with "l'Atlas de l'eau". In this edition, the water challenges are succinctly presented, starting with the state of our resources, the imminent threats, the geopolitical tensions exacerbated by water and finally the impact of climate change on this resource. The data for the articles comes mostly from the last two United Nations World Water Development Reports.

Some numbers

- 97.5% of the Earth's water is salty and desalination is not the expected saving solution. So, 62% of our drinking water is drawn from groundwater and 38% from streams, rivers and lakes. Over the last hundred years, the planet has lost half of its humid areas and climate change is disrupting the water cycle at every stage.

The disruptions are reflected in the intensification of bad weather, ranging from droughts to floods. For example, the Water Atlas reports that almost two-thirds of the world's population faced severe water shortages for at least one month during the year.

- Water quality is also threatened by our plastic-intensive consumption patterns. The entry into the ocean of 1.15 to 2.41 million tonnes of plastic waste through waterways forces us to question the impact of our societies on our resources, on water quality and ultimately on our health.

Since 2010, potable water and sanitation are recognised as a fundamental right because of their essential and vital nature. United Nations reports remind us that international human rights law obliges States to make every effort to provide universal and unconditional access to water and sanitation. Yet, of the 7.6 billion people in the world, 2.1 billion lack access to clean, safe and permanently available water.

- One out of three people do not have access to safe drinking water.

- Three out of ten people do not have access to safely managed drinking water services.

-Six out of ten people do not have access to safely managed sanitation facilities.

-One in nine people practice open defecation.

The situation in Laos

Unlike neighbouring China, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam are not categorised as countries facing severe water shortages. This is confirmed by the global water stress ranking produced by the World Resources Institute and used by the Water Atlas. Out of 164 countries listed, Laos is ranked 147th, well behind China (56th) and France (59th), which are both in the top half of the ranking.

However, the region is not spared from climate change. The Mekong River Commission is concerned about the droughts that have been occurring in the Lower Mekong Basin in recent years. At the same time, the monsoon seasons, although characteristic of these countries, are becoming increasingly intense under the influence of global warming. The visible consequences of these floods are damage to water supply infrastructure, the destruction of water points and of sanitation systems. The sludge tides that can follow also lead to the risk of contamination of water sources and the spread of viruses. Since 2017, South Asia (India, Nepal, Bangladesh) has experienced particularly intense monsoon seasons and devastating mudflows.

Progress in sanitation is reflected in l'Atlas de l'eau, with the death rate attributed to unsafe water falling from 8% in 1990 to 3% in 2017[4] in Laos. Despite this progress, structural challenges remain. While the region is not under imminent threat of water stress, it faces development challenges, closely linked to water challenges, and all under the threat of cyclones, floods and rising waters.


Translated by Maïwenn SWANSON

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