The 2013 Laos Floods: Responding to a disaster through a unique peer-to-peer cooperation between National Societies

Published: 26 March 2014 9:35 CET

In September 2013, seasonal flooding in two southern provinces of Laos were the worst experienced in 30 years. The Lao Red Cross, with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), French and Thai Red Cross, have been conducting a relief operation since October to assist 10,000 people with food, hygiene and non-food items. The IFRC released 300,000 Swiss francs from the disaster relief emergency fund to support the activities. The DREF operation closes on 2 April 2014.


Given the regional solidarity between National Societies in Southeast Asia, disaster management staff member, Kanungnij Chantaratin, was seconded by the Thai Red Cross Society as an IFRC delegate for four months to support Laos Red Cross run the floods response operation. The following question and answer session shares more insight on this successful and unique exchange of peer-to-peer cooperation between National Societies: 


Q. What was your reaction when you were requested to support Lao Red Cross for the floods operation?

Immediately, I was very glad to have the opportunity to work with another National Society. It is new experience for me, something I have never done before. Since my time with Thai Red Cross Society in 2011, I have been developing contingency plans for disaster management - specifically flooding - coordinating with chapters, conducting assessments, and not only doing the relief and recovery work within communities, but also working as a team leader for the distribution of relief items, water and sanitation and mobile kitchen activities. I gained a lot of experience during the two largest floods in 2008 and 2011 in Thailand. All of this was very useful knowledge I am happy I can bring to Laos Red Cross. 


Q. Is there one experience in the past four months since you arrived in Laos, which impacted you the most?

I went to distribute relief items at Bann Madd village, Salavan Province. Before the distribution started, I took time to talk with members of the community. Because Thai and Laos have a similar language, communication is easy. I was asking about their experience with Lao Red Cross. I was struck by one woman’s response:

The flood destroyed my home, all our chickens…it is very hard for me as a widow...Yet I know I am not invisible and I am so proud that people care about our suffering here in Lao. The rice given by the Red Cross helps me survive. See full article here 

Our conversation really stayed with me. I am proud to be a part of the Red Cross; to know that we provide not only physical relief in times of hardship, but we alleviate human suffering and provide dignity to many people.  


Q. Was it challenging to fit into a new team as someone from another National Society?

There are many similarities in the culture and language between Thais and Laotians. It makes it easy. However I was the only woman in the disaster management team. This was interesting. Yet everyone respected me as a professional and we made a great team. Being the only female was never a problem.


Q. Based on this experience, what is the benefit of working together as National Societies?

The peer-to-peer support between National Societies is a good opportunity to learn. I would definitely recommend it to other Red Cross staff, whether one goes as an IFRC delegate or as the National Society. The same environment and routine work may block creative thinking. I gained great experience, and I believe Lao Red Cross did as well. And as the Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) mission is complete, I am confident that Thai and Lao Red Cross have a closer relationship that will result in further collaboration for disaster management.  


Q. What will you bring back to Thai Red Cross Society?

There are a few things I plan to do now with this experience for the benefit of Thai Red Cross Society’s Community Health and Relief Bureau:

I will do a qualitative research about Participating National Societies (PNS) collaboration in disaster management and in health dimension for evidence base practice. It was also interesting to me that Lao Red Cross does not have a procurement unit. The disaster management (DM) department takes responsible for all purchase and warehouse management. As a result, the DM department has all necessary and updated information, which strengthens their planning processes. I would like to evaluate how this system can be useful for our own systems at Thai Red Cross Society. It was also interesting to see that the DM staff have competencies in community-based disaster risk reduction, as well as disaster response and recovery. The staff can be easily rotate for any mission given their skill set. Thai Red Cross Society is always aiming to improve our DM staff capacity, so we are accountable in any phase of a disaster and this experience in Lao will be great to share with my colleagues as a real-life example we can learn from. 



Q. Anything else you wish to share about your time with LRC?

Lao PDR is a beautiful country and the Red Cross is very hospitable. The transcultural work helped me to understand Laotians more in their thinking and lifestyle. There are many Lao people working in Thailand and we are closely connected in this region. Together we can help vulnerable groups that need Red Cross support. 

I also am also really grateful for the support from the IFRC South-East Asia regional delegation. This is a great example of the work we can achieve together, as a global Red Cross family.