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

First come the rains.
They make lakes and rivers rise, flooding villages and fields, recounts resident of Kamkok in Xekong province, Mr Bounchang Jingkalieng.
 “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”, Mr Bounchang said.
“These floods destroy harvests, sweep fish out of ponds and erode riverbeds where women wash clothes and children play everyday”. 
Then comes the drought.

Bounchang introducing a water metre allowing every household in Kamkok to monitor water usage.

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,” he said,
“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 village was established in the late 1990s by a group of Katou, a small and distinct ethnic group in southern Laos.
They migrated to the area from another district and have lived at the foot of Ta Yeune mountain since.
Villagers then started cutting down trees in order to create arable land.
As such, the forest on the hillside degraded over the past decades, leaving the mountain almost bare, with only shrubs, bamboo and a few trees on 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 where community-led disaster risk management comes in.
What sounds like a highly technical intervention is actually as simple as the installment of a well and water tower, and the replanting 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 2,000 Kip (US$0.20) per month,” says Village Head Kamthong Bounchan.
“This includes all expenses for maintenance and salaries for villagers responsible for the water supply system,” Mr Kamthong said.
To recreate nature and strengthen ecosystem 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 risk of floods and landslides and preventing rivers from drying out.  
Bounchang Jingkalieng is ready to contribute.
“I’ve been planting teak trees along the river for over 15 years now,” he said.
“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. 
Projects are being implemented in the two southern provinces of Saravan and Xekong, with 35,000 beneficiaries so far. 
In order to include disaster risk management into development budgets, a disaster risk component is now integrated into the District Development Fund.
The District Development Fund is a programme that provides discretionary development grants that improves the delivery of public services to rural and remote communities. 
The rural infrastructure and disaster preparedness project in Kamkok is supported by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, UNDP and the Global Environment Facility’s Least Developed Country Fund.
Source: UNDP

(Latest Update
June10,2017 )

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