Lao PDR: Managing climate change with early warnings
By Victor Igbokwe and Margaret Jones Williams
When floods ravaged Lao PDR last year, a lack of adequate warning significantly contributed to the damage and loss. UNDP is partnering with the government and private sector to solve this problem and help the people of Lao prepare for future hazards.
The upcoming Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction and the EU-UNDP-World Bank organized World Reconstruction Conference 4, is an opportunity for us to come together and accelerate our implementation of the Sendai Framework and improve our recovery processes. A common theme running through both of these events is inclusion and resilience. DRR and recovery practices aimed at building resilience and fostering inclusion are essential to addressing inequality, a core priority at UNDP. More information on WRC4 here.
“As the water gushed into my shop, I was desperately looking for places where to store the products in my small house. All my crops and chickens were washed away and even though I was initially able to save my buffalo, it later died from diseases it contracted from the water.”
Pat Tiptapmavon, a small grocery shop owner and mother of five, is telling a tragic story that many Laotians can relate to. In 2018, three tropical storms caused intense floods in each of the 18 provinces of Lao PDR, affecting over 400,000 people and destroying more than 100,000 hectares of paddy fields.
Mrs Tiptapmavon’s home village of Thabo in Bolikhamxay Province was not spared the devastation, and the community is looking for ways to recover.
“Monitoring and assessing the damage was really difficult as we did not have enough boats to commute around the village. Boats would have also helped us in informing communities in the lower-land areas to prepare for the floods,” says Vongvihane Phengphachanch, the Village Chief of Thabo and a victim of the floods himself.
As climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of storms in Lao PDR, concepts such as disaster preparedness and resilience to climate change are finding their way into the lexicon of even small farming villages like Thabo. Many public institutions and communities are struggling to make the necessary adjustments, due to lack of resources and experience in coping with unpredictable weather.
UNDP firmly believes that people should be at the centre of disaster risk reduction. We want to ensure that peoples’ livelihoods and assets can survive violent weather, by reducing their vulnerabilities to risk. That’s why UNDP and the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, with funding from the Luxembourg government, are piloting early warning systems.
People will receive early warnings by text. Institutions at the national, provincial, district and village level will efficiently disperse information to vulnerable communities. The pilot project is starting in Vientiane, Attapeu, Bolikhamxay and Saravan provinces.
Although the project is in its initial stages, some major steps have already been taken towards improving the flow of information between the government and its people. In December 2018, the project signed contracts with all four private sector telecommunications companies—Lao Telecom, ETL, UNITEL and Beeline—on using text-messages to deliver weather-related information to over 200,000 subscribers. The information is provided by the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.
Important lessons have been learnt about bringing together the national disaster agency, hydrometeorology specialists, the regulator agency for telecommunications, and private companies. Collaborating with three ministries with vastly different mandates and four companies, to ensure we reach everyone to ensure we leave no one behind in the event of a disaster.
The system was successfully tested in January and February. The next step is to build on the pilot and to roll out early warning text messages during the 2019 wet season, which lasts from May to October. UNDP has bought loudspeakers, amplifiers and generators to make sure that remote communities with unreliable, or no telecommunications network at all, can still be warned.
Mother nature may have sounded a warning for Lao PDR in 2018, but as in any emergency, it is crucial to remain calm and collected. Although the world’s climate is becoming increasingly unpredictable, the issue can be managed. If people like Mrs Tiptapmavon, and Mr Phengphachanch receive timely messages and have the tools to respond to newly-emerging climate challenges, they may be able to take shelter from the storm.