Lao PDR has a population of 6.6 million. According to the World Health Organisation, almost a million people live with disability in Lao PDR, i.e., one in six people. Per capita, it is the most heavily bombed country in the world . Two SNV formative research studies found that there are proportionally more people with disabilities living in the poorest wealth quintile. At home and in public, strategic and concrete actions will need to be taken to ensure that people with disabilities are able to enjoy their right to water and sanitation.
The formative studies were conducted in 2019, with Humanity and Inclusion and Laos Disabled Peoples’ Association, as part of the SSH4A Beyond the Finish Line project (with funding from the Australian Government’s Water for Women Fund). SNV engaged in a baseline study and an in-depth formative research to understand those factors that affect people with disabilities in gaining access to WASH facilities and services in three districts of Savannakhet province.
Semi-structured interview during formative research
Inflexible makeshift wooden legs heighten the challenge of toilet use
Crawling to the bush
Mrs Mo is a woman with disability who lives with her husband and three-year-old son at Dongbang Village, Phalanxay District. She suffered from polio when she was her son’s age.
‘I am lucky that my parents supported me and took care of me until I met my husband. We don’t have a toilet at home yet, so my husband takes me to the bush to defecate. When my husband is away, I must help myself. I crawl from home to the bush to relieve myself. It is difficult especially during the rainy season or at night. We would like to have a toilet. But we are under the impression that it is very expensive and that we cannot afford it’, Mo said.
Lack of privacy
Mr Souk is a man with disability living at Lousemarkkhaa Village, Champhone District. Mr Souk lost his leg to an Unexploded Ordnance (UXO), while working in the farm.
‘I don’t have a lot of difficulty. I can still help myself and I don’t need a care giver. I also have my own toilet at home, and a water pump near my house. I carry a bucket of water to the toilet for flushing. But I do feel that my toilet lacks privacy. It is also difficult for me to squat, but we do not know how to make it easier’, he said.
Setting the sanitation course with people with disabilities
The studies’ findings provide useful insights into the multiple challenges and barriers faced by people with disabilities. These include and are not limited to lack of privacy, long distances of facilities from the household, unpaved and poorly lit roads, and inaccessible toilets (e.g., difficulties squatting). In general, people with disabilities are not involved or consulted in planning or designing toilets. As a result, most toilets are not easily accessible, or are inappropriate for people with disabilities’ needs.
The meaningful involvement of people with disabilities in setting the course of sanitation is crucial. With the recent signing of the project’s MoU between SNV and the Savannakhet province’s leaders, the partnership will work closely with Laos Disabled Peoples’ Association, and various CBOs and the community to raise decision makers’ awareness about people with disabilities; increase the participation of people with disabilities and Disabled Peoples’ Organisations (DPOs) in community events and WASH-related activities; and advocate for specific budget allocation to facilitate access to information, meaningful participation, and the set-up of more accessible WASH facilities at home and within public institutions.
 Throughout the Second Indochina conflict (1964-1973), the country suffered intensive aerial bombardment and extensive ground battles. Records show that an excess of two million tons of bombs were dropped on Lao PDR (approximately one ton of ordnance for every man, woman, and child), including more than 270 million cluster sub-munitions, commonly referred to as ‘bombies.’ Up to 30% of cluster munitions failed to detonate upon impact (Lao PDR Unexploded Ordnance Sector Overview, September 2012) continuously injuring and killing dozens of people each year.
Banner photo: All-female FGD on WASH access and people with disabilities | All photos by SNV/ Outhikone SOUPHOME IN