Accessing Safe Water in Rural Thailand


CEJS Director Phillip Thompson's teams first began working with a local Thai nonprofit, Faith International in 2004. Since then, in addition to teaching piano and English lessons, SU students have built a dormitory with bathrooms, a septic system, and installed four drinking water treatment systems. When Dr. Thompson returned to Thailand in June 2015 with a team of four students (Ivvie Shelhorn, Nicky Manlove, David Traina and Armand Shahbazian) and alumnus Patrick Cummings (BSCE ’08), they found that the medical clinic’s water treatment system that had been installed in 2010 was no longer being used. Things had changed. People in the village were now buying their water from a local business man for one Baht ($0.33 US) per liter under the assumption that his water is cleaner and free of pesticides. “We can debate whether that is good or not. On the one hand, people are paying to maintain the source of safe water but on the other hand, the price for water could go up at anytime.” says Thompson. The water that the medical clinic provides is 200 times cheaper than the water that people are purchasing, but villagers simply do not understand that the water provided at the clinic is free of pesticides. After several meetings, the clinic staff agreed to continue supporting the treatment system and to educate users about the safety of the water.

Through this experience, Thompson’s team found an opportunity for a new clean-water partnership in the village. The team met Wanchai Methayotworakul, a Chinese pastor who has a cistern where people from his congregation of about 100 people come daily to fetch water. The team tested the water to ensure that the water this pastor was offering to people was actually safe. A sand filter removes particulates from the water prior to the cistern, but the water is not disinfected. Upon testing the it, the team found the water to be heavily contaminated with E. coli bacteria which indicates the presence of fecal contamination and possibly other pathogenic bacteria or viruses. The pastor was very eager to work with the SU team upon learning that his water was unsafe. The team installed an ultraviolet light (UV) disinfection system and a carbon filter (to remove pesticides).The system required a onetime cost of approximately $1000US and a yearly maintenance expense of approximately $400US. In exchange for donating the treatment system, the pastor has agreed to manage the maintenance of his system and three others that SU teams have installed at the clinic, a dormitory and a child care facility. Dr. Thompson hopes that this pastor can educate the community about water safety. “We have to leave it up to the pastor to educate the community about this water. Outsiders aren’t going to be able to do it as effectively,” says Dr. Thompson.

In addition to improving access to water in Thailand, Thompson and his team also taught English and music lessons to students in the village. Information on these projects are found here on Nicky Manlove’s blog. The work SU did during the summer of 2015 will propel Huai Nam Khun closer towards social and environmental sustainability. “Our projects help address the needs of the community,” says Dr. Thompson. “And if there are other needs, we would be happy to work with them for ten more years.”  


This work is supported by Seattle University’s Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability, the SU Endowed Mission Fund and the SU Office of Global Engagement. Learn more about ESW's Thailand work.