MANILA, PHILIPPINES - Women who spend up to two hours a day on the backbreaking task of water collection and storage will be key beneficiaries of a new water supply and sanitation project in the Lao People's Democratic Republic.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) Board of Directors approved a $23 million grant from its Asian Development Fund for the Small Towns Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Project.
The project will provide piped water and sanitation services for about 137,000 residents in over 120 villages in Lao PDR. Cofinancing of US$5.3 million will be provided by the Government of Australia and $500,000 from the Gender and Development Cooperation Fund, which is administered by ADB with contributions from Norway, Canada and Denmark.
The project supports the Government's push to expand access to safe piped water to 80% of the urban population by 2020. In 2006, piped water coverage in small towns was just 21%, with sanitation coverage at 69%. At present many people rely on shallow wells, ponds and streams for water, which is often contaminated, causing ill health, lost income, increased child mortality rates and school absenteeism.
Together with the health and income benefits for the poor, the project will also build capacity of water supply utilities and oversight agencies. In 2006, water supply utilities posted losses estimated at over KN30 billion ($3.53 million) - more than the total amount spent by the government on health in the same period.
The project will seek to help the utilities become self-sustaining corporate entities by setting tariffs that allow them to recover their overheads, and at the same time keep supplies affordable through a three-tier charging system that spreads the cost of piped water over the entire customer base.
"The move to improve water supply utilities' business model will be accompanied by measures to increase the capacity of key oversight agencies, enabling them to plan, regulate and manage the water and sanitation sector more effectively," said Anupma Jain, Social Sector Specialist in ADB's Southeast Asia Department.
The project also offers scholarships for women to train and work in water supply and environmental engineering.
"The pool of qualified women engineers in the country is very limited and the project has a number of incentives for women, including 20 scholarships for female high school graduates to pursue higher education in water supply and environmental engineering," said Ms. Jain.
Other gender initiatives include setting a minimum target for female representatives in the project implementation unit and in village committees, who will help oversee the project.
Lao PDR is one of the world's least developed countries but in recent years it has become increasingly connected to the Greater Mekong Subregion through cross border highways, interregional trade and increased tourism. Many of the project towns are in key transport corridors, and improving water and sanitation will boost their role as market and service centers for surrounding rural areas. In turn this will result in more economic opportunities, jobs and reduced poverty levels. The project will also give tourism a push by making towns more attractive to visitors.