Green creek scares off Lao villagers

Pollution from upstream chicken farm is the second waterway to face contamination in as many months.
RFA Lao
2024.02.20
Green creek scares off Lao villagers Waste from a nearby chicken farm in Laos’ Nathaen village, Viengxay district, Huaphanh province, has turned Nathaen creek green, Feb. 12, 2024, and left villagers afraid to use the water.
(Citizen journalist)

Villagers in northeastern Laos say they’re struggling to access enough water for washing and bathing after an upstream chicken farm began polluting a widely used creek earlier this month. 

The incident marks the second time in as many months that villagers in Viengxay district, Houaphanh province have suffered from environmental damage caused by an agribusiness. In January, a burst sewage pipe at a pig farm in a nearby village spilled into the river, killing hundreds of pounds of fish. 

Some 140 families living in Nathaen village have been coping with the impacts of the upstream chicken farm for years, but the problem became particularly bad this month, according to villagers. 

“In the past, the problem happened and it was over [quickly]. This year, the problem started again this week and it looks likely to continue for the whole year,” said a villager who asked not to be named for security reasons. “We cannot use water from the creek … Many people have had no water to bathe or wash their clothes.”

The villager went on to explain that while those who live in the center of the village can access a centralized underground water system, those on the outskirts rely heavily on the creek for daily use. Many of the villager’s neighbors are now seeking water from relatives who have access to wells or underground water tanks. 

Another villager who asked not to be named described the water as “green as a vegetable.” 

He noted that district-level authorities had visited the village in prior years but have yet to put a stop to the polluting practices. 

A Viengxay district official told RFA that the authorities are aware of the issue and have met with the farm owner to address it.

“No fish died from this incident, but people are still afraid to use water from the creek,” the official said. “The problem really affects villagers.”

Another district officer said the farm owner signed an agreement after officials visited on Feb. 14. In it, the owner vowed to address the problem by moving his chicken farm further from the creek. 

“The owner said that initially the farm released waste water from the chicken farm to the nearby vegetable yards as fertilizer, but the wastewater somehow leaked into the creek and then the problem happened.”

Translated by Phouvong. Edited by Abby Seiff and Josh Lipes. 

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