By Matt Cochrane, IFRC, Bangkok
The Lao Red Cross will provide regular food and relief assistance to more than 5,000 people who were severely affected by tropical storm Haima which struck Lao on 26 June, causing extensive flooding in six provinces right across the centre of the country. Whilst estimates vary, at least 35,000 people have been affected, with 19 deaths confirmed by the government.
The impact of the floods in terms of food security is of particular concern as Haima hit at the beginning of the planting season. More than 5,500 hectares of rice paddies and farming fields have been damaged or destroyed, along with a number of warehouses that were storing rice and rice seed. More than 42,000 livestock were also lost.
“Many people now have no food for the coming months and need urgent help,” said Dr Bountheung Menevilay, head of disaster management for Lao Red Cross. “We have already started to provide some assistance, but it is clear that people will need our support for the coming months.”
The Red Cross programme will target those worst affected by Haima. Working with local authorities and civil society organizations, the focus will be on helping people who lost at least 90 per cent of their household food stock, as well as families with young children or elderly members
The first distributions took place on 23 July in Bolikhamxay Province. Access to basic hygiene is critical in any post disaster context and the Lao Red Cross has allocated approximately 14,000 Swiss francs (144 million Lao Kip) from its contingency funds to purchase supplies of rice, soap and detergent for 1000 people.
In the coming weeks, the operation will broaden to include communities in Vientiane Province. This extension will draw on support from the IFRC which has released approximately 330,000 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF).
Red Cross volunteers will also support communities to prepare for further disasters.
“Floods like these are an all too common reality for many people in Lao and across South East Asia,’ said Dwi Hariyadi, an Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) disaster management expert who is in Lao to support the operation.
“We need to use this opportunity to help people understand and identify the risks they face, and to take appropriate action to minimize them.”
The operation is expected to last six months. On 8 July, the Government of Lao officially requested international assistance.