Towards Climate-Resilient Inclusive WASH Services in Rural Lao PDR 


Water for Women partners with SNV Netherlands Development Organisation and partners to deliver the project, Towards Climate-Resilient Inclusive WASH Services in Rural Lao PDR, to directly benefit an estimated 230,035* people across the districts of Atsaphone, Champhone and Phalanxay in Savannakhet province.


The People’s Democratic Republic of Lao (Lao PDR) is a predominantly rural country, with a population of around 7.4 million[1] living mostly in rural areas. The country faces frequent exposure to extreme weather events and disasters such as floods and typhoons, which makes it more vulnerable to climate-related economic shocks and threatens access to and the safety of water and sanitation infrastructure.


The World Bank[2] estimates that average temperatures, frequency, and severity of flooding and dry-season length will increase in Lao PDR due to global climate change, requiring its people to adapt to both situations of increased flooding and longer dry periods, with increased annual likelihood of drought.


In the low-lying Mekong plains of rural Lao PDR, climate change risks are already impacting water security and compounding existing water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) challenges and vulnerabilities. Climate-related events like increased flooding[3] and prolonged dry seasons threaten the sustainability of WASH technologies, exacerbate inequalities in access to basic and safely managed sanitation services and water, as well as water quality issues, and impact households and governments that are still grappling with the financial shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Currently, local governments also have limited capacity to respond to and act on climate change risk mitigations at provincial and district levels, as identified through the Water for Women Innovation and Impact research project led by the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures (UTS-ISF) and SNV.[4]


Climate change intensifies inequalities. When climate-related events disrupt water and WASH services and access, minority and marginalised groups are disproportionately impacted. In Lao PDR, this includes women and children, poor households, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities.

A picture of various water storage vessels in Lao PDR

Rainwater harvesting in Lao PDR, where climate change is increasing the demand for increased water storage (SNV Lao PDR / Bart Verweij)


Climate-related risks to water, sanitation and hygiene

Large gaps in accessibility, availability and water quality exist between rural and urban areas of Lao PDR, with under 80% of the rural population but nearly 100% of urban dwellers using water from improved sources that are accessible on premises, available when needed, and free from contamination.[5]

According to the 2021 Joint Monitoring Programme update,[6] while 84% of the population has access to a basic water service at home, only 18%[7] can access a safely managed water supply to meet their daily water and WASH needs. Around 79%[8] has access to only basic sanitation, and according to the Lao Social Indicator Survey,[9] an estimated 24% of the population still practices open defecation.

Despite the government’s significant advances in policy development around climate change,[10] there is currently little acceptance or understanding of climate resilience actions and how to implement the national policies at sub-national levels downward.[11]


Savannakhet has the highest population of the provinces in Lao PDR; it is also among those with the highest poverty levels (27.5% compared to the national average of 18.3%),[12] the highest population density of children under five (~13%),[13] and an estimated 8% of the population lives with some form of disability.[14]


In the project districts of Atsaphone, Champhone and Phalanxay, around 48% of households are from ethnic minority groups and 40% of households are assessed as poor.[15] More than 30% of households in these districts have also experienced a significant climate-related event in the past two years — 90% flooding and 10% drought,[16] which will worsen with climate change.


All latrines are designed with leaky pits, open user interfaces, and below predicted flood levels, therefore are at high risk of experiencing septage pit leakage to the environment with increased flooding. Beyond those with direct discharge or no toilet, a large proportion of households that store septic waste do not effectively remove it. These unsafe practices impact on water security, water sources and increase human-pathogen transmission risks. Further, latrines are typically located away from homes, which make them difficult to access in flood conditions, especially for people with a disability.

A map of Lao PDR with regions of operation highlighted


“We must support the knowledge and awareness of governments in the risks and challenges that climate change will bring, so they can better support the rural and marginalised people for local and appropriate adaptations to these increased health risks.”

- Outhikone Souphome In, Department of Rural Development, Communication and Inclusion Specialist




Towards Climate-Resilient Inclusive WASH Services in Rural Lao PDR aims to strengthen the capacity of local governments and private sector actors to support adaptation and integrate climate change resilience within inclusive, area-wide rural WASH services and systems in the districts of Atsaphone, Champhone and Phalanxay in Savannakhet Province.


Building on SNV’s Water for Women project, Beyond the Finish Line: Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene for All, completed in 2022, from 2023-2024 this project is consolidating area-wide approaches, generating evidence of the costs of climate-resilient WASH services, innovating flood-resilient toilet designs, and developing climate-risk messaging on water quality and sector alignment with disaster risk reduction responses.


From 2023-2024 this project aims to deliver lasting impact through:

  • Targeted support to 42 government health officers, 15 health care facilities and 50 schools to improve access to basic water supplies, basic sanitation — including menstrual hygiene management — and improve hand hygiene behaviour
  • Verification of the three project districts as Open Defecation Free (ODF), with strategies in place to sustain this outcome
  • Delivery of meaningful and scalable interventions for climate-resilient adaption processes, including facilitation of government learning, budgeting and planning, and development of climate-resilient water safety plans, learning and capacity-building for inclusive community WASH committees
  • Research and development of climate-resilient support options for poor households to ensure WASH access for all and leave no one behind
  • Strengthened decentralised WASH systems that are responsive to local climate risks, adaptation and security challenges, capacities and priorities
  • Strengthened private sector engagement in the delivery of climate-resilient inclusive WASH services
  • Strengthened gender equality, disability and social inclusion (GEDSI) in the WASH sector, including increased female leadership among local WASH provisioners, civil society organisations (CSOs), communities and households
  • Strengthened use of evidence-based practice and innovation in climate-resilient, safely managed and GEDSI WASH delivery by subnational and national stakeholders, CSOs and WASH sector actors.
A woman speaks to a man as they sit on some steps in Lao PDR - understanding the needs of the vulnerable

Understanding the needs of vulnerable people in a changing climate (SNV Lao PDR / Bart Verweij)

View more photo updates from our work in Lao PDR


“We understand that climate change is important, but we need help understanding more, because we don’t really understand.”

Dr Anoulack, Provincial Director of Nam Saat 

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Thumbnail of cover of the PDF summary of this project

This project is an extension of Beyond the Finish Line: Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene for All, which was delivered from 2018-2022.

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Inspiring local government heroes of climate action for Inclusive WASH

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WASH-related climate challenges for this project

  • Around 71% of Savannakhet villages still practice open defecation.[17]
  • Approximately 83% of household source water in Savannakhet and more than 93% of drinking water stored at households contains faecal coliforms.[18]
  • Across the three project districts, more than 20% of the population does not have access to a basic water supply, while 43% of those that do are reliant on bottled water.[19]
  • Around 29% of people living in the project districts do not have access to improved latrines, and for those that do, more than 70% have no safe method of emptying sludge from latrines.
  • Handwashing remains an unmet basic need for 63% of people in the project districts without handwashing facilities.
  • 100% of households do not understand the main occasions for washing hands and 57% do not consider it necessary after cleaning child faeces, according to SNV monitoring data.
  • Of the 30 health care facilities (HCFs) in the project districts, only one has sufficient drinking water for patients; four have non-piped water supplies.
  • None of the HCFs have appropriate latrine services, with an insufficient quantity of latrines for patients that are rarely separate to those for staff and few with access for people with a disability.
  • Ten of the 30 HCFs do not have appropriate handwashing facilities at latrines and 23 do not have appropriate handwashing facilities at patient points of care.


Local government in Lao PDR introduces the integration of climate risk indicators in community-led sanitation monitoring in Champhone district (SNV Lao PDR / Bart Verweij)



Towards Climate-Resilient Inclusive WASH Services in Rural Lao PDR aims to reach the following beneficiaries by the end of 2024:

Direct beneficiaries: 230,035*

  • women and girls: 116,429
  • men and boys: 113,606
  • people with a disability: 681

Indirect beneficiaries: 840,000*



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Australia's development assistance program is investing in Lao PDR to achieve these outcomes. Water for Women is proud to be partnering with SNV Netherlands Development Organisation and partners in Savannakhet province.


Feature photo: Climate-resilient latrines are never high enough. As climate change increases flooding in Lao PDR, the water marks left on this latrine show how they can never be high enough (SNV Lao PDR / Bart Verweij)


*Project targets are based on partner Civil Society Organisations (CSO) baseline studies. Project targets are updated periodically in response to changes in context as appropriate. To see our latest progress towards targets, see our progress.

[1] World Bank, Population, total - Lao PDR, World Bank (website), n.d., accessed May 2023.

[2] World Bank, Climate Risk Country Profile: Lao PDR, The World Bank Group and the Asian Development Bank, June 2021.

[3] Flood hazard analysis of the Xe Champhone River indicated more than 46,000 people in Savannakhet are at high risk of being impacted by a 50-year flood event and simulated flooding depths of up to 12m in some areas. Study by: Hazarika et al., Flood Hazard In Savannakhet Province, Lao PDR Mapping Using HEC-RAS, Remote Sensing And GIS, 2008, accessed 18 October 2022.

[4] SNV, Inspiring local governments to mainstream climate action into WASH Experiences from Nepal and Lao PDR, SNV, November 2022.

[5] World Health Organisation and UNICEF, Progress on Household Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Regional Snapshot East Asia and Pacific Region 2000-2020, WHO/UNICEF JMP, November 2021, accessed May 2023. 

[6] World Health Organisation and UNICEF, Progress on Household Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene 2000-2020, WHO/UNICEF JMP, July 2021.

[9] Lao Statistics Bureau, Lao Social Indicator Survey II 2017 Survey Findings Report, Lao Statistics Bureau and UNICEF, 2018.

[10] Government of Laos, Draft National Strategy on Climate Change of the Lao PDRVision to the year 2050, Strategy and Programs of Actions to the year 2030, Vientiane, 26 April 2021.

[11] The 2019–2030 Strategic Framework for Rural Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene for Lao PDR sets out the policy and planning framework up to 2030. The 2019 National Policy on Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene provides the principles, guidelines and roles for all actors. Lao PDR has also adopted and formalised a National Disaster Management Law (2020) to strengthen disaster preparedness and response; a Climate Change and Health Adaptation Strategy (2018-2025) and Action Plan (2018-2020). From: Sanitation and Water for AllLao People’s Democratic Republic Country Overview, Asia and the Pacific Finance Minister’s Meeting, December 2020, accessed May 2023.

[12] Lao Statistics Bureau and World Bank, Poverty Profile in Lao PDR: Poverty Report for the Lao Expenditure and Consumption Survey 2018-2019, 2020.

[14] SNV, Impact Monitoring Report, SNV, 2022.

[15] SNV, Impact Monitoring Report.

[16] SNV, Impact Monitoring Report.

[17] Laos National WASH Conference 2022, Vientiane, 29-30 September 2022. 

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