New disaster plan to improve preparedness efforts

13 Sep 2011

Heavy flooding during the northern summer, affecting 10 out of the country's 17 provinces, has underlined the need to strengthen disaster management in Lao PDR.

Tropical storm Haima struck central and northern provinces on 24 June with Nock-Ten hitting central and southern areas on the 30 and 31 July.

According to the government's National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) 26 lives were lost, more than 1,000 livestock and 60,000 poultry died, and over $100 million in damages recorded as a result of the flooding caused by the two storms.

Many farmers also lost their food stocks and more than 37,000 hectares of rice fields were damaged by the flooding during the critical rice planting season.

Ghulam Sherani, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) specialist for disaster risk management believes the communities affected responded well in the circumstances, “When the emergency struck they quickly mobilized, arranged themselves and divided the roles and responsibilities to respond. However, this could have been much better had they been better prepared and planned beforehand.”

Efforts are underway to achieve this with the country's first national disaster management plan 2012 to 2015 currently being drafted by the NDMO with financial and technical support from UNDP and the World Bank.

“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,” said Vilayphong Sisomvang, NDMO's deputy director.

Thanongdeth Insisiengmay, senior project manager for the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC) believes early warning systems need to improve. "If the typhoon starts in the Philippines, for example, then people need to be prepared that in three or four days it could come to Lao PDR," he explained.

According to Sherani, an empowered NDMO would be able to advise and influence different sectors to be better prepared. "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 pass that information on to communities."

He added that cyclones and typhoons can be predicted, unlike earthquakes. “You can see where they are and where they are going. If we can translate that information to an understandable language for local communities then this will make a big difference.”

The new disaster preparedness plan is an important development but Sherani also believes that long-term behavior change is needed, “When you say disaster preparedness you are basically working with people to change their behavior, whether it is a policy maker or community person, so it takes time.”

Lao PDR is prone to annual flooding during the May to October rainy season but the severity of such events has increased. According to government statistics this was the first time since 1962 that the northern province of Xieng Khouang flooded.

Lao PDR is a signatory to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) a 10-year plan 2005 to 2015 to make the world safer from natural hazards.