Tuesday, August 26, 2008

More flood news

I came to work with a list of things to do, and the energy to do them. Had a schedule for six major things to take care of... and then I found an invitation for a meeting about the flood damage and the ongoing needs assessment. I tried to get my #2 to go, but he insisted that I should go. Finally, we decided we both should go.

I tried to do some of the work on my 'to do' list and remembered I hadn't written someone's letter of reference, which they needed right away. Then other staff came in with problems large and small - my tack is to make them decide what they should do rather than telling them what they should do. Better for capacity development but worse for time management.

So after finally getting the letter written, printed by my secretary, signed and stamped... it's nearly noon. Meeting's at 2 pm, and since it's an official meeting I had to return home to change into a nicer blouse and sinh (the traditional Lao skirt). My landlady was puttering around my kitchen so I started talking to her... lunch hour was up.

The meeting was very sobering - in fact, horrifying to see the flooded areas from the air - animals wandering, lost, in the high water, villages cut off by being surrounded by water, flooded fields. Even as the waters recede, the problems worsen - most people use communal wells, which are now contaminated of river water entering from the top (with 10 meter-deep wells, lined with concrete rings, water is mostly purified by percolating up through the soil). Destroyed crops and grasslands mean livestock will have problems foraging. Roads have been washed away or damaged - a big problem for remote areas. Older schools have been destroyed. The list goes on.

From the Vientiane Times (http://www.vientianetimes.org.la):

Govt lists urgent needs of flood victims

Food, clean water, medicine and household items are urgently needed for more than 178,000 people affected by recent flooding in Laos , Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Dr Thongloun Sisoulith said yesterday.

Deputy PM and Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Thongloun Sisoulith ( third right ) speaks at the briefing in Vientiane yesterday.

Dr Thongloun was speaking at briefing about the impact of recent flooding in 679 villages of 53 districts in eight provinces of Laos .

The briefing was held to inform diplomatic corps and international organisations about the impact of the flooding in Vientiane capital and the provinces of Huaphan, Bokeo, Xayaboury, Luang Prabang, Borikhamxay, Khammuan and Vientiane .

“Although the water level in the Mekong River and its tributaries is subsiding, the impact of the recent flooding remains widespread and the rainy season is continuing, so we are still under threat of further flooding,” Dr Thongloun said.

Dr Thongloun said the water level in some areas remained at alarming levels and teams were working tirelessly to collect accurate data on the extent and cost of damage, while also assessing communities' medium and long-term needs.

Vientiane Mayor, Dr Sinlavong Khoutphaythoune, said flooding had devastated eight districts in the capital.

He said the cost of damage to agriculture had reached 206 billion kip, with more than 15,000 hectares of rice and 314 ha of fish ponds destroyed. The cost of damage to the communication sector, including roads, had reached 22.2 billion kip and the cost of damage to the electrical network was 1.5 billion kip.

“We need funding to buy rice, clean water and medicine for our victims. We also need 3 billion kip to fix 64 schools for our children,” Dr Sinlavong said.

Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Mr Sitaheng Latsaphon, said at least 40,000ha of rice had been destroyed, but this figure was expected to increase because some areas remained under water.

“We need 3 billion kip to buy seeds and medicine to treat animal diseases,” he said.

“Our most urgent task is to encourage people to keep supplying vegetables to markets in Vientiane . We also need 80 billion kip to repair 528 irrigation systems.”

Minister of Public Works and Transport, Mr Sommath Pholsena, said his ministry needed 144 billion kip to repair highways, especially Road Number 13 and needed billions more to repair roads linking districts and villages.

Minister of Health, Dr Ponmek Dalaloy, highlighted the urgent need for flood victims to have access to adequate sanitation systems and toilet facilities.

This year's flooding is considered the worst in history. Up until now, the worst flooding had occurred in 1966 when the Mekong River in Vientiane rose to just above 12m. Flood levels this year reached 13.8m in Vientiane .

Speaking at yesterday's briefing, Dr Thongloun listed the assistance offered by friendly countries and international organisations and expressed his thanks on behalf of the government for their assistance.

Thailand has given emergency relief assistance totalling 15.3 million baht (US$464,000), Japan has given 12 million yen (US$111,000), America through the Lao Red Cross has provided US$50,000 and World Vision has informed the government of its intention to donate 1,145 tonnes of rice worth US$700,000.

By Somsack Pongkhao
(Latest Update August 26, 2008)

By the time I returned to the office, it was late; however, I got a chance to talk with staff and we decided to put together a small donation. They were rattling off figures so fast I couldn't keep up but I think they estimated they'd need about 50 million USD to make repairs of roads, schools and irrigation systems; provide seeds for next years crops and provide rice for this year's mouths. While people coped with a smile during the flood itself, I'm not sure how many people will cope in the coming months.

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