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May 7, 2014
A map showing the location of Beng district in northern Laos’s Oudomxay province. Graphic by RFA
Residents of at least six villages in northern Laos are getting sick from drinking water they believe has been contaminated by residue of pesticides and weed-killers, confronting nearby farms for overuse of the chemicals, local sources said.
The ethnic minority villagers in mountainous Oudomxay province’s Beng district have sought the urgent intervention of local authorities after the confrontation raised tensions in the area.
But an agriculture official said there was little the government could do to control use of pesticides and weed-killers, which have polluted the local creeks and streams the villagers rely on for drinking water.
Residents affected by the pollution are from the district’s Napa, Tameun, Khoksa-Ad, Patong, Huai Lor and Phiahuanam areas, a villager said.
After villagers began getting diarrhea on consuming the water, some of them confronted farmers living upstream about their complaint, getting into quarrels with them, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The farmers use too much pesticide without knowledge [of its effects],” he told RFA’s Lao Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Now villagers are facing hardship and there have been conflicts because of this. We could not discuss it [with them]; they don’t listen and we don’t know what to do.”
The villagers have no access to tap or well water and normally rely on local creeks and streams for drinking water, he said.
“Our drinking water comes every day from creeks,” he said, adding that villagers wanted authorities to help keep their water clean.
A local Department of Agriculture and Forestry said weed killers and pesticides were widely used by farmers in Oudomxay, including ones made of banned substances.
“There are a lot in our villages because … when the (weed killers) are brought in, there are some people who use them in secret and we’re not able to regulate it.”
He said the department had not sent officials to investigate the complaints from the Beng villagers, but were aware that farmers in the area use pesticides and weed killers to grow rice and other crops.
According to government statistics, 64 percent of people in rural communities had improved sources of drinking water in 2012, compared to 88 percent in urban areas.
Laos’s government has pledged to halve the proportion of people without year-round access to safe drinking water by 2015, according to the Vientiane Times.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.