VOICES Project Completion Report
The VOICES project aimed to identify effective ways to improve access to clean water for drinking and hygiene of vulnerable people on the margins, by listening closely to their stories of responding to the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak and comparing their perspectives with current practices and policy ideas in the Mekong Region. This report covers the entire project period, 1 October 2020 to 30 September 2021.
To improve our understanding of the drivers and consequences of household water insecurities in vulnerable communities for COVID-19 risk reduction practices in 5 countries in the Mekong Region (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam), a total of 1,559 individuals from water insecure communities were surveyed about their water systems, experiences and practices in the first year of the pandemic. The interactions between COVID-19 control measures and water insecurities were different for handwashing, facemask washing and drinking. Increased needs for clean water to wash hands or facemasks made it more likely a person was water insecure along those dimensions. Insecurity with respect to water for handwashing made adoption of good handwashing practices less likely. Drinking water insecurity, in contrasts had no influence on good drinking water practices. Water systems, considering both resource conditions and micro infrastructure, and social context were important for water insecurities and good practices. The key insight for policy is that domestic water insecurities and COVID-19 control measures interact to influence practices. Effort should therefore be directed at identifying the water insecure, as they are likely to be at high risk when COVID-19 reaches their communities.
To compare the survey results and identify ways to reduce household water insecurities in various types of vulnerable communities in the 5 countries, in-depth interviews with 50 government officials and development experts were carried out. There were three key findings. First, the significance of water insecurities for people living in vulnerable communities is underestimated by many stakeholders, thus a sustained effort is needed to identify, assist and empower water insecure individuals at risk. Second, to reduce water insecurities requires a combination of shorter and longer-term responses, for instance, to protect water sources from contamination and degradation. Third, further investment in appropriate to location water treatment, storage and delivery systems is often needed.
In this project, research results were documented in two submitted manuscripts. Further dissemination of information to stakeholders was accomplished via presentations and webinar, briefs and infographics, and articles in the media.
To ensure effective coordination of activities between project partners in all 5 Mekong countries, the Coordination Unit was in frequent communication with Partner Leaders through virtual meetings and messaging. To this end, partner countries have good relationships, exchange information, and provide suggestions to each other.
Regarding recent problems and challenges, the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic made implementing some of the activities, such as field work to conduct surveys or in-depth interviews, difficult during the project period. These were overcome, for example, by switching to virtual interviews.
The successful collaboration between partners during this project led to further collaboration on the call “Collaborative One Health Research Initiative on Epidemics (COHRIE)” by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC). All Partner Leaders from VOICES project were confirmed country Partner Leaders for the submitted proposal. The proposal was also formally endorsed by the Sustainable Mekong Research Network (SUMERNET).