By Tiamkare Thitithamtada, IFRC and Somphon Varasane, Lao Red Cross
A little over six months ago the world watched in horror as a massive dam wall collapsed in Laos.
It was late July 2018 when powerful flash floods caused by the collapse of the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy hydropower dam hit more than 13,000 people in the southern province of Attapeu, Lao PDR. The floodwaters swept away the homes of more than 6,000 people and left behind mud and rocks on farmlands which had been the source of livelihoods and income for many families in the region.
Today, many of the affected people have returned to their newly-repaired homes, while those whose houses were destroyed remain in the temporary shelters, waiting for permanent housing being built by the Laos Government.
For Ing Phommachan, 51, and his family of seven, life has changed dramatically. He used to make a living selling products from his rice plantation and his farm animals. Now, he can no longer support his five children’s primary and secondary education.
Many aid organizations including the Lao Red Cross have been providing support to families like Ing’s, distributing household items such as kitchenware and bedding, as well as food and clothes.
In January 2019 the Lao Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) distributed cash grants to 1,464 households; those people whose houses were severely damaged, and who were living in temporary shelters in Sanamxay district. Depending on the number of family members, they received between 70 to 106 Swiss francs (69 to 105 US dollars).
This cash-based intervention is the type of assistance that helps people meet their specific needs with freedom and dignity. In Attapeu where people were unable to go back to farming, cash allows them to buy food, medicine, and, among the most popular items, bicycles which could take them to find jobs and bring their children to and from school. In the case of Ing, he plans to use the cash on his children’s education. With his old vehicle destroyed in the flood, he will also buy transportation to take them to school.
Hinla Saiyawong, 35, is from Thahin Village in the Sanamxay district. As a farmer, he used to be able to support his family of five, including his sister. He’d sell his products – including the river fish that he often caught from the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy River – at the market, making about 70 to 117 Swiss Francs (69 to 117 US dollars) to support his family every month.
The July 2018 flash floods destroyed his house and his farm. For the next three months his family stayed at an evacuation centre until they again moved; this time to a government-built temporary shelter in Dongbak district. While the family had been provided with support such as food, household items, and hygiene products, Hinla still struggled to find ways to carry his produce to sell at the market and to send his children to school. He says the cash grant support will enable him to acquire necessary items to restore his livelihoods and support his family. He, too, also wants to buy a vehicle to transport his products and his children.
As the communities slowly rebuild their lives, the Laos Red Cross continues to work with IFRC to help them restore their livelihoods, secure safe shelter, and improve the quality of water, sanitation and hygiene. And Laos Red Cross will stay with them, helping them to prepared for future disasters.