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Floods show Laos needs early warning

Heavy flooding during the rainy season, affecting 10 of  17 provinces in Laos, has underlined the need for stronger disaster-management efforts, experts say.

Tropical storm Haima struck central and northern parts of the country on June 24, with Nock-10 hitting central and southern areas on 30 and 31 July. Heavy rains have affected water levels in neighbouring Thailand and Cambodia.  

More than 300,000 people were affected and 26 died in the two storms, which resulted in more than US$100 million in damages, the Laos government’s National Disaster Manager Officer reported.

More than 37,000 hectares of rice fields were damaged at a time when farmers were planting for the new season. This will affect harvests this year, with aid workers warning of long-term food distribution needs.

“When the emergency struck, they [local communities] quickly mobilised, organised themselves and divided the roles and responsibilities to respond. However, this could have been much better had they been better prepared and planned beforehand,” Ghulam Sherani, a disaster risk management for the United Nations Development Program, said.

Sherani believes that lives, livestock and food stocks could have been saved had an improved early warning system been in place, noting that unlike earthquakes, where and when cyclones and typhoons strike is predictable.

“If we can translate that information to an understandable language for local communities then this will make a big difference,” he said. “We must strengthen the institutions related to disaster management and make sure that early warning is a priority and reaches the communities,” Thanongdeth Insisiengmay, senior project manager for the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre, said.

Efforts to do just that are under way, with the country’s first national disaster management plan for 2012-2015 being drafted by the NDMO, with financial and technical support from UNDP and the World Bank.

The NDMO was established in 1999 to work on disaster preparedness, mitigation and response. It functions as the secretariat for the National Disaster Management Committee, an inter-ministerial body responsible for formulating policy and coordination.

“We need to build the NDMO as an institution and the new disaster plan will help to formalize disaster preparedness planning as a cross-sector approach that includes all government ministries,” Vilayphong Sisomvang, NDMO’s deputy director, said.

Moreover, an empowered NDMO would be able to advise and influence different sectors to be better prepared, Sherani added.

“For example, they can improve their work with the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology. The department is studying the weather but is not mandated to [disseminate] that information to communities”
Insisiengmay said this is the gap that needs to be plugged. “If the typhoon starts in the Philippines, for example, then people need to be prepared for that in three or four days it could come to Laos.” Irin News Agency



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