Natural Disasters and Mitigative Measures

in the Lao PDR

Country Report

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Reported by: Mr. Sitha PHOUYAVONG

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CONTENTS

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1. Introduction *

2. The basis for Disaster preparedness *

3. Occurrence of Natural Disasters *

3.1 Flooding *

3.2. Droughts *

3.3. Fires *

3.3.1. Urban Fires *

3.3.2. Forest Fires *

3.4. Typhoon *

3.5. The Erosion and Sedimentation *

3.6. Earthquakes *

4. Mitigation of Natural Disasters in the Laos in the past *

5. Problems, facing the Lao PDR *

6. Government Strategy *

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1. Introduction

The Lao PDR, situated in the center of the south-east Asian peninsula, covers an area of about 237,000 km2 , extends 1000 km from north to south and 500 km from east to west at its widest point in the north and only 150 km at is narrowest point in the south. Lao PDR is landlocked and virtually all of the country is in the lower watershed of the Mekong River which traverses the country from north to south. Almost 80% of the land surface is hilly and mountainous terrain rising between 200m and 3000m above the Mekongfs alluvial plains. The mountainous terrain renders internal and external communication difficult and costly and severely limits the amount of land suitable for intensive agricultural production.

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Geologically, the Lao PDR consists of the older mountainous regions along the Annamite range and the younger alluvial plains bordering the Korat plateau. There are two major geo-tectonic folds running through the territory of Laos: one between the Korat plateau and the Himalayan plait, which extends from North of Khammouane Province to North of Savannakhet Province into Vietnam; and one from Chiang Mai - Chiang Rai crossing through Bokeo, Luang Prabang and Xieng Khouang Provinces into Vietnam.

The Climate: The climate is sub-tropical and dominated by the southwest monsoon which brings high rainfall, high humidity and high temperatures between mid-April and mid-October. While over 70% of the rain falls during the wet season, the climate is characterised by high inter-annual variability with relatively frequent occurrence of flooding and drought. Average temperatures range from around 20oC in the mountainous areas and on the highland plateaux to 25oC-27oC in the plains.

There are three main agro-climatic zones;

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Economically, the Lao PDR is still in its beginning to develop an industrial base. There is no chemical industry or other large scale industry in the country. Therefore, massive spills of hazardous chemicals are unlikely to occur in the near future. Because the country has no borders with the sea, oil spills, which bother neighbouring countries, are not of relevance here.

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2. The basis for Disaster preparedness

At the 1986 Government Congress, the New Economic Mechanism emerged as a means to promote a market- based economic system based on de-centralized economic decision- making and an expanded private sector. The New Economic Mechanism subsequently was included in the countryfs 1991 Constitution and has since become the basis of a national reform process based on sustainable development and the conservation of natural resources. More recently, the government also has emphasised rural development as a key priority for realising the stated objectives of accelerated socio-economic development and improved living standards through the expansion of economic, social and physical infrastructure. The national priority programmes, all of which in some manner can be related to disaster reduction are food production, stabilisation/reduction of shifting cultivation, commercial production, infrastructure development, improved foreign economic relations, rural development, human resource development and services development.

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3. Occurrence of Natural Disasters

3.1 Flooding

Flooding is the main natural disaster in the Lao PDR - both in terms of fre-quency as in terms of consequences. There are floods along the Mekong river every year in the central and southern parts of the country. Those areas represent almost a half of the countryfs surface and rice and agricultural production are concentrated here. Flooding in the North and East is rare, sometimes Oudomxay Province is affected. But because of the sloping area, the force of flood water is strong and therefore floods in the North are far more devastating than in the centre and the South.

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Table 1: List of flooding.

Year

Type of Damage

Damage cost ( $us)

Location of Damage

1966

Large flood

13,800,000

Central

1968

Flood

2,830,000

Southern

1969

Flood

1,020,000

Central

1970

Flood

30,000

Central

1971

Large flood

3,573,000

Central

1972

Flood and Drought

40,000

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1973

Flood

3,700,000

Central

1974

Flood

180,000

Southern

1976

Flash Flood

9,000,000

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1977

Severe Drought

15,000,000

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1978

Large flood

5,700,000

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1979

Flood and Drought

3,600,000

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1980

Flood

3,000,000

Central

1981

Flood

682,000

Central

1984

Flood

3,430,000

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1985

Flash Flood

1,000,000

Oudomsay Province

1986

Flood and Drought

2,000,000

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1990

Flood

100,000

Central

1991

Flood and Drought

3,650,000

Central

1992

Flood, Drought and Forest Fires

302,151,200

Central and northern

1993

Flood and Drought

21,827,927

Central Southern

1994

Flood

21,152,400

Central Southern

1995

Large flood

33,000,000

Central and Southern

1996

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1997

Flood and Drought

1,196,614

Central and Southern

Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, 1995

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Table 2. Flood and Damaged rice fields 1994 , 1995 and 1997 by province.

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Province

Damaged 1994 (hectares

Transplanted 1995

Damaged 1995

Transplanted 1997 (hectares)

Damaged 1997

(hectares

Vientiane

2,485

33,523

7,425

38,660

4,700

Vientiane Prefecture

1,800

42,737

17,396

47,500

2,800

Bolikhamsay

5,997

18,791

8,157

26,700

5,870

Khammouane

13,702

41,781

13,498

41,750

6,900

Savannakhet

4,457

93,039

6,791

106,295

8,285

Champassak

3,102

36,918

8,300

80,160

5,750

Total

31,633

306,789

61,567

341,065

34,305

Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, 1995-97

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Table 3. Flood affected population, 1995 and 1997

Province

population

1995

Number of families 1995

Numberof families

1997

Average number/ family

growth rate

Vientiane prefecture

528,109

88,863

22,225

5.94

3.4

Vientiane Province

286,089

47,167

14,130

6.07

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Bolikhamsay

163,847

26,642

12,372

6.15

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Khammouane

273,779

49,839

49,948

5.49

2.5

Savannakhet

671,581

106,858

7,657

6.28

2.1

Champassak

500,994

84,230

13,039

5.95

2.2

Total

2,424,399

403,549

119,371

-

-

Whole Country

4,581,258

752,102

238,762

6.09

2.4

Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, 1995-97

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The major floods occurred in Laos since the past 35 years, with severe or exceptional flooding in 1966, 1978, 1983 ,1990, 1991,1993 and 1995 . As a general condition, floods are experienced from August to September in the central and southern provinces of the country.

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In order to initiate mitigation measures, the government has started to collect data on the most affected areas, to undertake surveys on the most important catchment areas with the use of RS/GIS with the aim for river rectification in the future.

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3.2. Droughts

This type of disaster is the second most important after flooding. It occurs over the whole country. However, regions which most experience droughts are the same with the most floods (central and southern provinces). Hereby one has to consider0 that a short drought of , for example two weeks occurring during the seedlings preparation can have serious consequences. When all seedlings (before transplanting) die, the farmers have to start anew. The process of transplanting will therefore be delayed by approx. four weeks and, when the normal rainy season floods occur, the newly transplanted rice will be not high enough to withstand even that normal water level.

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Table 4: Consequences of droughts

Year

Type of Damage

Damage cost ( $us)

Location of Damage

1967

Drought

5,200,000

Central and Southern

1972

Flood and Drought

40,000

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1975

Drought

not available

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1977

Severe Drought

15,000,000

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1979

Flood and Drought

3,600,000

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1982

Drought

not available

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1983

Drought

50% below normal production levels

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1986

Flood and Drought

2,000,000

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1987

Drought

5,000,000

Central and northern

1988

Drought

Crop losses of 40,000,000 production in Electricity Production(hydro) 10,500,000

Southern

1989

Drought

20,000,000

Southern

1991

Flood and Drought

3,650,000

Central

1992

Flood, Drought and Forest Fires

302,151,200

Central and northern

1993

Flood and Drought

21,827,927

Central ,Southern

Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, 1995

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In the above mentioned areas, there are more than 400,000 hectares under paddy cultivation. However, if they are hit by drought, only 18,000 hectares have irrigation and the remaining area has to remain barren. In 1996, the government has purchased 7,027 pump units for improving this situation. Since then, 99,700 hectares of paddy fields can be artificially irrigated. Other cash-crops can be irrigated up to 50,000 hectares.

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The use of pumping stations has improved the situation considerably but, in order to have enough water available, the government pays great attention to the protection of watersheds and the creation of artificial water retaining basins.

3.3. Fires

Forest fires have always occurred in Laos. They are mostly observed during the dry season (February to April) particularly in the mountain-ous north and north-east. In 1998 an unusual drought as a possible consequence of this yearfs El Nino occurred and led to a much higher incidence of forest fires.

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Table 5: Areas affected by forest fires nationwide

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Location

1996

1997

1998

Luang Prabang*

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- 3,000 ha

Bokeo*

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4,200 ha along the Lao ? Thai border

Oudomxay*

35,000 ha

25,000 ha

20,000 ha

Luang Namtha*

-

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17 mountains along the Lao - Chinese border

Phongsaly*

-

-

-

Saygnabuly*

15,000 ha slash-and-burn

15,000 ha slash-and-burn

127,360 ha

Viengtiane**

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710 ha

Viengtiane Prefecture**

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1,240 ha

Xieng Khouang**

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10,000 ha

Houaphane**

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Saysomboune**

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Bolikhamsay**

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Khammouane**

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58 ha

Savannakhet**

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600 ha

Salavane**

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100 ha

Champasack**

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200 ha

Sekong**

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67,527 ha

Attapeu**

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TOTAL

50,000 ha

40,000 ha

134,995 ha

Source: * Provincial adiministration

** Ministry of Agriculture/Forestry, Dept. of Forestry

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3.3.1. Urban Fires

Urban fires occur frequently in the Lao PDR, mainly due to the cooking habit of the population, traditions connected to spiritual beliefs and its spreading is facilitated by mostly wooden houses.

In addition they derive from neglecting the cooking fire or the back - yard burning of household waste. Another reason for urban fires is the outdated electricity equipment of houses, markets and factory buildings.

Each major town has at least one fire brigade.

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3.3.2. Forest Fires

Each year, the Lao PDR suffers a loss of its forest cover due to uncontrolled forest fires.

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One countermeasure to prevent forest fires is the at present ongoing activity of the government to issue land titles to the population (including for forests). This leads to a sense of ownership and prevents major fires. The strategy has proven very successful up to now. As a member of ASEAN, the Lao PDR has actively participated in the development of it haze action plan, which also deals with the prevention of forest fires.

There is also a Prime Ministerfs Order to establish fire prevention units at village level. This, however, faces many difficulties because of the lack of equipment and communication. Often there are only some buckets for extinguishing a fire.

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3.4. Typhoon

Typhoons accompany the onset of the rainy season every year (May, June). Because of its protection by mountain range, typhoons here are quite mild. However, material damage (uproofing of houses, felling of trees and electricity posts) is quite wide spread. For example, on 23.4.97 a typhoon in Bokeo has destroyed 112 houses and made 607 people homeless. The total damage amounted to 260 million Kips (approx. 200,000 US Dollars).

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3.5. The Erosion and Sedimentation

Rivers are running from the mountains to the Mekong River generally through such steep gradients that many of them increase rapidly in times of heavy rains and carry large amount of alluvial soil downstream. In addition, wherever the forest or other vegetation cover is depleted, the water usually carries away a large amount of topsoil.

The main causes of landslides are heavy rainfall, deforestation and other activities on high slopes.

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Adequate data on erosion is not available but the predominant soil types and heavy rainfall, suggest that a significant part of the country is susceptible to erosion.

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A recent analysis of sedimentation data in the lower Mekong basin furthermore suggests that sediment rates in the southern parts of Laos have increased substantially over the past twenty years and are among the highest in the region, although the exact causes for the increase have not yet been determined. This suggests that further research and monitoring in the watersheds of the southern Mekong tributaries which carry these high sedimentation loads is warranted.

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In 1996, landslide occurred in Oudomxay province. It was originated by heavy rainfall and inadequate soil structure. It lead to the breaking of a 1MW hydro-power dam, which apparently was not surveyed properly. Another landslide destroyed the Nam Phao Dam in Bolikhamxay Province (1.5 MW).

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Sedimentation of storage reservoirs and high sediment flows in rivers as a result of erosion of upstream catchments, pose a significant potential threat to hydro power schemes and irrigation development. Siltation of the reservoirs reduces storage available for power generation or irrigation and high sediment flows in rivers and canals tend to damage machinery and restrict flows.

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River bank erosion is very high in the area of the Golden Triangle (border area between Laos, Thailand and Myanmar). Every year, in each village, more than ten houses have to be moved away from the Mekong. There are about 30 villages along the river in this area. Other areas of the Lao PDR, such as Vientiane Municipality, Bolikhamxay, Thakhek, Savannakhet, Pakse, Champassak and Khong are also heavily affected.

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Table 6. Suspended sediment flow in selected rivers

Rivers Catchment Area Mean Flow Sediment Yield

km2 m3/sec ton/km2

Mekong at LuangPrabang 268,000 3,973 122

Mekong at Pakse 545,000 9,805 178

Xe bang hieng (Mek .trib.Savannakhet 19,400 499 345

Se done ( Mek. Trib. Champasack) 5,760 154 229

Nam Leuk (Mek. Trib. Vientiane) 5,115 297 212

Nam Ngum ( Mek. Trib. Vientiane) 16,500 696 48

Nam Khan ( Mek. Trib. Luang Prabang) 5,800 83 66

Source: Mekong Secretariat, g The lower Mekong basin: Suspended sediment Transport and Sedimentation Problems (1995)h.

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3.6. Earthquakes

Old French surveys (from 1890 - 1975) and recent data from Vietnam and Thailand suggest that earthquakes have frequently occurred in the North of Laos. Their magnitude was always quite low. However, the data collected in the past only show that there was an earthquake in a certain region but give no detail as on the damage and duration.

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A major earthquake has been recorded for the first time in the history of Laos, at 1.00AM of 31,October 1994 . The epicenter was placed at 200 19f 50h N and 102o 26f40hE (Xeung hok village, district of Muong Gnoi, Luang Prabang province). Fortunately at that time, the earthquake did not destroy any assets and kill any people.

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The second one observed in the recent past, hit in November 1996 at 200 15f N and 1000 30fE in Houay Xay District of Bokeo Province. More than 60 houses were destroyed, among them a hotel with approx. 20 rooms and the cultural hall of the province. Repair costs were about 100,000 US Dollars.

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There is no strong motion measuring station (seismic station) in the whole country but, with increasing activity observed along the Luang Prabang fold further earthquakes are expected and such a station maybe needed for prediction.

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4. Mitigation of Natural Disasters in the Laos in the past

  1. In the past, the government has given welfare and replacement seeds and animals to the victims of floods, droughts and fires.
  2. Flood protection dikes along all major towns were constructed.
  3. There are also some flood protection dikes to protect strategic areas.
  4. Each major town has at least one professional fire brigade for urban fires.
  5. In the recent past, village units for forest fire protection were established.

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5. Problems, facing the Lao PDR

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6. Government Strategy

  1. The Lao PDR is preparing its haze action plan.
  2. Expand disaster units to all levels of the government.
  3. Establish a legal framework (regulating rights and duties in the case of emergency)
  4. Improve the communication system and upgrade equipment.
  5. Establish a social welfare fund for the victims of disasters.
  6. Provide sufficient funds for research and early warning systems.

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