Luang Namtha province in Lao PDR is surrounded by Myanmar, China, Oudomxay and Bokeo provinces. With 85% of the land in mountainous regions, the area is often referred to as the Golden Triangle. Most of the population of 145,310 people is poor and subsist mainly on slash and burn agriculture.
While traveling in Luang Namtha province in April 2009, in preparation of our third Health Care in Remote Area Mission planned for September 2009, we came across a group of older Akha women with children walking back to their village. We offer them to get a ride with us as we thought their village was located at only 3km. As it turned out, their village was at 25km from where we were.
Arriving at the village, which has a population of 600+ people, we were greeted by young girls who were on their way to get water at some distance from the village. We later learned that the small stream that provides water for the village is located at 1km from the village, at the bottom of the hill, hardly accessible with a 45 degree slope. The seasonal stream where animals also drink and bathe is visibly contaminated.
We were not surprised to find a few sick people in the village and thought that most likely some of them may have contracted typhoid fever (salmonella typhi). Indeed, two people were on the third week of high fever. At that stage, a number of complications can occur, most often intestinal perforation which is frequently fatal.
Our diagnosis was later confirmed by blood culture taken at Luang Namtha district hospital and sent to Vientiane for analysis. The family of the young man in the photo below had already been decimated. When asked why he was not taken to the hospital, they claimed that it was too far and had no money anyway to pay for treatment. In fact, they were treating him with useless local traditional medicine and a good dose of hope that the spirits would help too.
We took both patients to the Luang Namtha hospital where fortunately they recovered well. They returned to their village three weeks later.
Before leaving Laos in early May 2009, we retained the services of a local engineering firm that specializes in water issues to investigate options that may be available to provide water to the village.
After sending surveyors to several water sources around the village and as far as over 10 miles, we concluded that bringing water to the village by gravity would not be possible. With electricity having recently been brought to the village, we decided that drilling a well would be feasible and searched means of funding this project.
Thanks to a generous grant from the Water Hope organization in 2012, LRF acquired a drilling rig specially designed to reach villages in remote areas such as Ban Nam Yang. Rated to drill to a depth of 700 feet, we hope the new equipment will allow us to find water within the boundaries of the village itself.