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Mae Hong Son Province, in Northwest Thailand, has one of the highest incidence rates of malaria, with 8.4 cases per 1,000 people compared with just 2.04 nationally, according to the World Health Organization. The Karen of Mae Hong Son are a marginalized ethnic minority that live in mountain villages, the majority of whom have no access to clean water, toilets, and often no electricity. Villagers must cope with extreme climate conditions, which includes flooding and drought. General health is poor and diseases such as typhoid and malaria are common, with Karen children at the greatest risk of exposure to diseases. Although only 9% of Thailand relies on river water as their main water source, a recent United Nations report confirms that 31% of the Karen in Mae Hong Son remain reliant on rivers for their water. Without proper latrine facilities, villagers use the nearby forest to defecate. Heavy rains and poor sanitation increase villagers’ risk of contracting and transmitting waterborne disease, such as E. coli and Salmonella. This can create serious, and sometimes lethal, health problems for children and adults. Without adequate sanitation facilities, waste will continue to contaminate the water systems used for human consumption and everyday tasks.
Clean water provides the basis for all community development. This project will allow the Karen Hilltribes Trust (KHT) to install a gravity-fed, clean water system in one of the poorest and most isolated Karen villages in the region, providing a reliable supply of clean drinking water. In addition to the clean water systems, KHT will install 30 latrines and shower units in the village to provide sustainable sanitation and waste management. In the past, the KHT's clean water systems projects have led to a dramatic improvement in health, with typhoid levels dropping by up to 98%. Any villages selected for KHT’s water and sanitation project are identified and selected according to their level of need. A complete demographic survey and questionnaire for each village will be undertaken once funding is secured. The following activities will be undertaken by KHT staff and the Karen community for this project: 1) Identifying a clean mountain water source above the village. 2) Building a small dam to collect the water at the source. 3) Piping the water from the mountain source to a location above the village. 4) Constructing a concrete tank that will filter the water using a twin-tank "slow sand filter" process. 5) Building two large storage tanks to contain the water, each storing 10,000 liters. 6) Digging shallow trenches and laying pipes between the tank and the village. 7) Piping the stored water to the village, where taps are installed with access for each household. 8) Constructing 30 ‘pour flush’ latrines, which includes digging the latrine pit and constructing the latrine-shower unit. 9) Training the villagers to maintain the systems and setting up water committees to ensure long-term sustainability. 10) Monitoring the project, undertaken by the water committee and KHT staff. As a result, approximately 350 Karen people will be provided with clean water, which will lower the incidence of water and sanitation-related diseases. Efficient access to clean water will also create a handful of wider benefits for the community. By removing the need to collect river water, more time will become available for other productive activities. And with a workforce that is kept free from these serious but preventable illnesses, agricultural output should help boost the village economy and household income. This project contributes towards the sixth United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring ‘Access to Water and Sanitation for All.’ Though this project will fund a clean water system and latrines for one Karen Hilltribe village, with enough funding support the KHT has the capacity to replicate this project for 10 Karen villages per year.