A key focus for UNDP is to support countries in building resilience to climate change, be prepared to recover from crises and build new partnerships for disaster risk reduction. One critical element of building resilience is to connect response and recovery by favouring long-term solutions that enhance the participation and empowerment of affected communities above quick, outsourced fixes. Cash-based interventions during the early recovery phase after a disaster are a good example for empowering villagers who have lost much of their belongings and income, for several reasons. Firstly, the communities affected by a disaster, including the most vulnerable, such as women and persons living with disabilities, are consulted and included in the decision making process around determining response priorities in their village. Secondly, these communities are direct beneficiaries, since they receive payment for short-term employment in the response projects. This is crucial in times when their own livelihoods – in the case of local communities in Laos mostly rice farming – are temporarily suspended because of loss of harvests.
After the floods of 2018, UNDP Lao PDR received a United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) grant of USD 813,000 to respond to the immediate damages the floodwaters had caused in Khammouan Province of Central Laos. The floods had destroyed roads and bridges, irrigation canals and agricultural lands, causing loss of livelihoods for local farmers. UNDP proposed to support villagers by providing cash for their work to repair important community infrastructure.
Working with the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare and its local offices and other partners at national, provincial and district levels, UNDP provided cash for work to 6,265 flood victims (2,858 women) from 64 villages in four districts of the province over a six month period between October 2018 and April 2019. In total, 32 roads and one bridge were repaired, nine irrigation canals cleared, and three water storage facilities expanded. Equal opportunity and equal pay were offered to both men and women over 18 years of age, with a daily individual wage of LAK 50,000 (approx. USD 5.50).
The Project repaired 147 kilometres of roads, cleared 18,100 metres of rice irrigation canals, and restored 348 hectares of agricultural land to normal production. Also, awareness on the dangers of unexploded ordnance (UXO) was raised in partnership with the National Regulatory Authority for UXO and Mine Action and the Lao Youth Union – all the more important, since flood waters may have dislocated and shifted unexploded bombs to new locations. School children received information on the dangers of UXO, and their teachers were provided with instruction materials on UXO, for use in the classroom.
These activities were designed to leave no one behind, since even the elderly and persons with disabilities were able to find work and receive wages, for example at registration or water stations, or caring for young children while their parents were working on the reconstruction sites. In addition to empowering villagers to take charge of restoring their lives after a disaster, these infrastructure projects stimulated local livelihoods because access to fields and markets was improved. Other long-term benefits of the project were new partnerships, enhance capacities of local authorities and raise awareness on labour standards.
Not all solutions were self-explanatory, activities were constantly developed and adapted, applying a learning by doing approach – as this was the first time that cash for work had been implemented in Lao PDR. A UNDP cash for work team provided guidance to government officials at every step in the process. Government officers, in liaison with village leaders, identified projects in consultation with communities, worked as volunteers for registration of workers, monitored project implementation and made payments to beneficiaries. They became familiar with all steps involved and developed practical skills and insights as they worked.
During the final weeks of the project, the Government and UNDP decided to outsource the payments to the Banque pour le Commerce Exterieur Lao Public (BCEL), due to the large number of projects being implemented and the need to ensure timely, efficient and accountable payments to the beneficiaries.
Health and safety measures were constantly adapted and raised awareness among villagers on labour standards. One example was the supply of masks for protection against dust during construction and clearance work.
The CERF-funded Khammouane Project has demonstrated that even in the wake of tragedy, disasters can create opportunities to build long-term, resilient and sustainable solutions. Adaptive, inclusive and participatory cash for work projects can lay a strong foundation to restore livelihoods and build communities that are more resilient to climate change and prepared to resist and recover from crises, and build new partnerships for disaster risk reduction, within government and with the private sector.
This article was written by Ross Hardy, an experienced international humanitarian and development program professional with expertise in disaster risk management, health program management, child protection and community development. He has managed and advised on disaster relief, recovery and development programs in the Pacific, Asia and Africa for international NGOs, UNDP, UNICEF, Australian Aid, European Union, Government of the Philippines (Department of Health, Department of Social Welfare and Development) and the Government of Mongolia.