Clean Water at Ban Nahao
“Getting clean water is easy now. It comes out of taps, even at school! Now I don’t have to go down to the river everyday to fetch water in buckets. I don’t worry about falling into the river or spilling it all when I climb back up the step banks.” Mok, 12 years old, Nahao School.
Along the Nam Xot River, which meanders through the hills of the Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area in Khammouane Province of central Laos, the basic rhythms of life continue much as they have done for centuries. As morning ends in Nahao village, children splash around in the river, sharing its shallow dry season flow with the village’s buffalos, while adults prepare fields in the surrounding hills for the coming wet season crops.
However, since the Nam Theun 2 Multi-Purpose Project began in 2005, changes have been arriving in this remote village, and life is becoming a little easier. To supply its hydropower station, Nam Theun 2 created a large reservoir on the Nakai Plateau, at the foot of these hills. The Nam Xot now flows into this reservoir instead of into the Nam Theun River, and the larger volume of water at its mouth means the Nam Xot backs up from the plateau, with its average level significantly higher than in the past.
The higher level has had positive and negative effects in Nahao. On the one hand, the river has become easier to navigate, and a boat journey to the district town now takes only two hours. When the river was lower, series of rocky rapids meant the trip took one or two days. Trade is now much easier for villagers and fish catches have become bigger. Incomes are rising accordingly. On the other hand, the rising river submerged various riverbank areas used by villagers to grow crops in different seasons. Because of this loss, the Nam Theun 2 Power Company (NTPC) came to Nahao to look at ways of providing compensation.
In addition to providing extension services to diversify and improve agricultural output, NTPC helped the villagers build a gravity-fed water supply system that brings clean water down from the hills to various standpipes in Nahao. The water is also piped across the river to the neighbouring village of Thamuang. People in both villages use the water every day for drinking, bathing, laundry, and to water their home gardens. The facility has greatly reduced the time spent collecting water, especially for women and children. Some families even pipe the water straight from the standpipes into tanks in their houses and latrines are starting to appear as the full potential of the new system is realised.
The water system has been fully functional for less than two years, but already many children can no longer recall the daily trek with heavy buckets, up and down the slippery river banks. Mok is one of the few children who remember the drudgery of before, but all the adults know the value of the standpipes.
“I go to the tap three or four times a day,” says Mrs Khampun, a mother of five, as she waters her vegetable patch. “I used to have to clamber down the river bank. I’d get very dirty, and the water wasn’t very clean either. For me the best thing is that I don’t have to ask my kids to go down the banks anymore, and my grandchildren won’t have to. They are lucky!”