Unlocking the Potential of Partnerships for Water and Health

In the rural areas of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, over 25 million people do not have access to clean piped water. Families would resort to surface water sources like rivers and lakes for drinking, cooking and other household needs. Fresh water is abundant in the lush provinces of Southeast Asia, but fresh water is not safe or drinkable water.

Lack of clean water and inadequate sanitation infrastructure go hand in hand. 35% of people in rural areas and they have to go in the open because they do not have adequate sanitation infrastructure like properly built toilets. This isn’t just inconvenient, but also dangerous. Poor sanitation infrastructure and practices facilitate the spread of life-threatening diseases like diarrhea — a leading cause of death for children under 5 years. Pathogens from human waste are commonly passed on when hands aren’t washed properly and come into contact with food. However, diseases can also spread when the soil absorbs these pathogens and contaminate water sources like rivers and lakes, and poorly maintained water systems.

Because we want everyone to experience the enabling and uplifting magic of water, we also believe in the magic that happens when people — leaders, decision-makers, experts, and communities — come together to create sustainable solutions. At the heart of our mission are our strong on-ground partnerships with governments, businesses, and communities that build on each group’s strengths to change how underserved areas access basic services to improve their health and wellbeing.

Our approach is called Output-based Aid or OBA. The rather technical term masks it’s exciting ability to create lasting change for families in need. Unlike traditional aid programs, OBA allows key players like governments and businesses to co-fund projects they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford on their own. To guarantee that communities get quality water and sanitation infrastructure, operators and suppliers are only paid for successful water systems or latrines built.

OBA also allows us to impact the families directly. We encourage low-income families to connect to piped water or construct a latrine by providing rebates or incentives. Together with the Women’s Unions and local leaders, we teach families improved hygiene practices which encourages them to consistently use clean piped water and toilets. Throughout this the process, we equip governments to run these programs on their own so they can keep the programs going and launch more projects independently in the future.

The result of this teamwork is inspiring. At the close of our 30th year in 2018, we have been able to serve over one million people from the poorest 40% of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Over 91,000 now use water systems to clean, cook, and bathe, while about 1.3 million enjoy the comfort and cleanliness of over 210,000 hygienic latrines.

We envision a world where everyone has access to clean piped water and safe sanitation facilities — fundamental steps in leading productive lives that lift people out of poverty. The great news is that this world becomes a reality when we bring people together and invest in building local capacity to carry out solutions for years to come. Now that’s a refreshing change we’d like to see.