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Flood submerges livelihoods across Laos

Consistent heavy rain kept hitting the roofs of people's houses beside the Mung River in Borikhamxay province. Normally, villagers are in bed after midnight, but instead the loudspeaker in the temple grounds kept warning people to be prepared for flooding that could swamp their houses.

A large boat that could carry more than the population of Hadkhay village, Thaphabath district, was on standby beside the temple in case of emergency after more than 30 families had been affected by flooding earlier this month with some of the families having to move to higher ground.

Villagers can't escape from the flood; all they can do is adapt.

Flooding is normal in the rainy season, but this year the floods have not only come suddenly, but have also been more devastating in some places.

Last month people across the country including these villagers were suffering from the late arrival of the rains and the baked earth damaged crops and prevented rice from being planted. Then out of the blue this month three days of continuous heavy rain caused severe flooding.

The rain washed away rice paddies that villagers had just finished cultivating, fish growers saw their recently released fingerlings escape from ponds, and artesian wells they relied on for their water supply could no longer be used because they had become muddy.

Villagers here seem unable to escape from the ever worsening flooding.

However, some have tried to adapt to changes in the weather by raising their houses higher above the ground and making preparations for extreme events like floods.

Uncle Lom Vongnala, who has lived here his whole life, had already decided to raise his house by three metres above the water level of recent floods.

“Moving to higher ground is the only solution if we want to be safe. I know it is hard for my family to move the whole hardwood house, but we have no choice,” he said, while weaving a basket underneath his house.

This year, he was fortunate enough to save the buffaloes he raises at his farm near the village and has had previous lucky escapes swimming across the river to lead his livestock to safer ground.

Unfortunately, he was not so lucky with the rice paddies he had just finished planting, and lost two hectares.

“My rice paddies are all gone and those of my neighbours as well. Now, my rice field is a sea of water and we can't do anything to save our young rice,” he said, adding that his family and other villagers who rely on subsistence farming will likely face shortages.

He is not alone as the worst of the flooding has submerged numerous houses and rice paddies in Borikhan and other districts of Borikhamxay province.

The level of the San River, a tributary of the Mekong, reached dangerous levels causing severe flooding that forced residents to move out of their houses. Some areas lack food and clean water and transport has become paralysed.

In addition to Laos, other countries including Thailand and India have also been affected by monsoon rains. Myanmar especially has been hard hit where flooding has killed 81 people, according to that country's Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.

Many believe that climate change delayed the onset of the rains this year in Thailand and Laos, affecting crops and water sources.

A water saving campaign was conducted across Thailand after reservoirs there dropped to their lowest levels recorded.

Laos also faced the same problem and water supply company officials warned people about the efficient use of water when rivers in Vientiane dropped to lower than normal levels.

Experts have warned Laos to be prepared for climate problems such as global warming and associated flooding.

The weather bureau also warned people across the country to be alert to flooding that will hit some provinces this rainy season.

Although climate change is unpredictable, this year extreme weather is obvious.

Even people like Mr Bountiem Xayadeth say that compared to past decades this year's weather is the worst.

“In the past, the rain was not as frequent as this year. This year, it is not only heavy, but also consistent and frequent,” he said.

He has also lost his four hectares of rice fields and is pretty sure that he and his neighbour will face a rice shortage.

Depleted natural resources, exploitation of the environment, and deforestation are believed to be the main causes of natural disasters.


By Phonesavanh Sangsomboun
(Latest Update
August 08, 201

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