Steady flows

How a community in southern Laos takes disaster prevention into its own hands

Steady flows
The new water tower in Kamkok provides water year-round directly to the houses of 336 people from 46 families. Photo: UNDP Lao PDR/Jim Holmes

First come the rains. They make lakes and rivers rise, flooding villages and fields. “In my 20 years here in this village, I have never seen six consecutive days of relentless rain. But last year, that’s what’s happened”, says Bounchang Jingkalieng, inhabitant of Kamkok Village in the southern province of Sekong in Lao PDR. The floods destroy harvests, sweep the fish out of ponds and erode riverbeds where women wash clothes and children play.

Then comes the drought. Bounchang bends down and picks up what looks like a small black stone. Holding it between his index and middle fingers, he lifts it up. “Villagers grow coffee trees between the houses, but they are suffering recently. There are hardly any trees left to provide them with shade, and even the slightest wind sweeps the unripe seeds off the branches like pebbles.”

Kamkok was established in the late 1990s by a group of Katou, a small but distinct ethnic group in Southern Lao PDR. They migrated to the area from another district and have lived at the foot of Ta Yeune mountain since then. Villagers started cutting down trees in order to create arable land, and so the forest on the hillside gradually degraded over the past decades, leaving the mountain almost bare, with only shrubs, bamboo and a few trees covering its ridge.  

With the disappearance of its trees, Ta Yeune mountain has lost its ability to manage water. Forests act like sponges. They absorb water in times of heavy rain and provide a stable amount of good-quality water in the dry season. For Kamkok, the loss of the forest has meant a rising number of flash-floods and decreasing ground-water levels.

Climate change further contributes to these risks, as dry seasons are prolonged and storms are more frequent and severe during the monsoon. With falling groundwater levels, the hand-pump-operated wells in the village dry out more frequently during the dry season, making it challenging to find clean drinking water.

That’s were community-led disaster risk management comes in. What sounds like a highly technical intervention is actually as simple as the instalment of a well and water tower, and the planting of trees.

With the help of a project, villagers dug a deep well, which they connected to a water-tower. The tower provides water year-round directly to the houses of 336 people from 46 families. “Depending on the amount of water they use, each family contributes around 2000 Kip (0.20 USD) per month,” explains Village Head Kamthong Bounchan. “This includes all expenses for maintenance and salaries for villagers responsible for the water supply system,” he says.

To rebuild nature’s ability to regulate water, the plan is to gradually replant forests 50 km upstream from Kamkok. Upstream forests help the ground water recharge faster and regulate water flow, reducing the risk of floods and landslides and preventing rivers from drying out.  

Bounchang is already game for planting trees. “I’ve been planting teak trees along the river for over 15 years now. The village life requires wood for cooking and construction. Also, trees keep the soil where it belongs. And sometimes I just like to enjoy their shade.”

Not too little, not too much – this is the goal of Kamkok villagers for their water supplies. Tree by tree, they are inching towards success.

 

For further information, please contact:

Dr. Margaret Jones Williams, Environment Unit Manager, UNDP Lao PDR;
E-mail: margaret.jones.williams@undp.org ; Tel: (856 21) 267 710

Ms. Chitlatda Keomuongchanh, Programme Analyst, UNDP Lao PDR;
E-mail: chitlatda.keomuongchanh@undp.org; Tel: (856 21) 267 782

Mr. Anders Poulsen, Chief Technical Advisor, UNDP Lao PDR;
E-mail: anders.poulsen@undp.org ; Tel: (856 20) 91951488