In a letter offering the UN’s support to the government in dealing with what are feared to be the most serious floods to hit the country in a century, the UN Resident Coordinator, Ms. Sonam Yangchen Rana, praised, “the spirit of solidarity among the Lao people who tirelessly help in building up protection walls along the river.”
In response to the UN’s letter, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a formal request for assistance from the UN system on 17 August. By then, UN agencies were already in discussions with ministries and other agencies on ways of getting aid to communities and families most affected by the rising waters.
Accurate information and data on the impact of the disaster is urgently needed. A joint Rapid Assessment Task Force, bringing together UN agencies, the government, donors and NGOs, was quickly established. Preliminary information collected by the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) suggests that over 150,000 people are affected in seven provinces, with information from three other provinces still missing.
The UN and its partners are supporting the government in coordinating its relief efforts through the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) on Disaster Preparedness and Response, which includes the NDMO, line ministries, UN agencies, Non-Governmental Organisations, donors and other development partners. A system of lead agencies was also established, to serve as primary interlocutors for the government in all aspects related to flood response: the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) jointly for food security, WFP for logistics, UNICEF for water and sanitation, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF jointly for health and nutrition, and UNDP for early recovery.
Agencies and technical line ministries are currently discussing possible cash and in-kind assistance to cover the most immediate needs of the flood-affected in different sectors. UNICEF and WHO have identified potential public health concerns resulting from congestion and poor sanitation and hygiene at evacuation centres in Vientiane during visits to the centres with the Ministry of Health at the weekend, and say these need to be urgently addressed. Preliminary supplies are under procurement.
In a gesture of solidarity, UN staff members joined the ranks of the Lao volunteers and helped with sandbagging efforts along the Mekong in Vientiane and at the airport. Staff associations of several UN agencies are collecting funds from staff to assist flood victims, and have started delivering food and medical supplies to affected villages in Vientiane.
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