By Rachel O'Brien and Shane Powell
BORIKHAMXAY PROVINCE, Lao PDR, 15 August 2011 – Seven-year-old May had been asleep for hours when the floodwaters came rushing through her village in the middle of the night.
|VIDEO: 20 July 2011 - UNICEF correspondent Rachel O’Brien reports on WASH programme assistance in the rebuilding process of affected villages and households in Lao People’s Democratic Republic after tropical storm Haima. Watch in RealPlayer|
“I was sleeping when the water came,” she remembers. “There was water everywhere, I ran and tried to escape. I was so scared.”
The tropical storm Haima in late June left villages across four provinces of Lao PDR water logged and destroyed. Over 40,000 people have since been left without homes, livestock and farms.
|© UNICEF video|
|Displaced villagers try to rebuilt their houses, destroyed by flood water in Borikhamxay.|
May’s village in Borikhamxay was in one of the hardest hit areas. It’s been nearly two months since the flooding occurred, and in many locations the waters have still not fully receded. Some sturdier brick homes in surrounding villages remain submerged but most wood houses like May’s have been washed away entirely and there’s been no opportunity to begin rebuilding.
Like many rural villagers, Khamphanh, a father of three, is attempting to rebuild what little is left of his family home. Most worrying, he says, is the loss of his livestock, which he’s been raising and adding to for nearly 20 years.
“It was my family’s main source of food and income,” he says. “But we lost all of them, they all drowned. We have nothing left.”
With many villages cut off from electricity and sanitized water, the threat of illness and disease is ever present.
Over a dozen deaths have been directly linked to the flooding, and reports continue to arrive from areas reporting a host of problems ranging from skin infections to a lack of water and essential medicines.
|© UNICEF video|
|UNICEF’s WASH programme is providing help to affected villages and households to ensure children have access to improved water.|
Health workers say the poor sanitary conditions pose an ongoing health risk especially to the most vulnerable such as children under five, pregnant women, the elderly and chronically ill. Health workers have also been advised to monitor closely for outbreaks of disease such as cholera and malaria.
“An early response is critical in these types of situations to ensure prevention of water and vector borne diseases and the protection of families, especially among vulnerable populations,” said Timothy Schaffter, Representative to UNICEF Lao PDR. “However, we’re confident in the strong and rapid actions taken by our Government partners.”
UNICEF provides support
UNICEF’s programme on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene has provided chlorine, soap and bio–sand filters to affected villages and households to ensure children have access to improved water.
Meanwhile the Lao government has mobilized assistance from both public and private sectors, but the scale of the disaster means they will require international assistance to repair the damages.
As the government, UNICEF and other partners work tirelessly to assist those affected by the floods, young May and Khamphanh work just as hard, in an effort to rebuild their homes and livelihoods from scratch.