LAOS The poorest will suffer the most

 Emergency Response
 2nd Oct 2009

by Lisa Ognjanovic, CARE Laos

As we waited for Typhoon Ketsana to hit, our first priority was the safety of our staff. Any at risk were immediately called back and commonsense things like closing windows and doors, making sure we had enough drinking water and ensuring that our staff prepared their own houses were done so we were ready to concentrate on people’s needs as soon as the storm passed.

Yesterday morning the team in Sekong, where the Typhoon hit hardest, sent through pictures of how high the river had come. It really hit home what kind of disaster the villages CARE works with along the river have experienced; they tell us the river rose from 7 metres to 28 metres high. We are still to get access to many of those villages so the extent of the damage and human impact remains unclear.

I have been in storms in Laos before where rooftops have been blown away and trees uprooted, but this storm was far worse than what we have ever seen. I can only imagine what impact a storm of this size may have on these poor communities.

We have heard unconfirmed reports of people seeing houses washing down rivers. Houses in Laos along the river are constructed out of bamboo and wood and would not have been able to withstand a storm of this size – the homes of the poorest people are even flimsier. As always, those who are already so vulnerable will suffer the most in this emergency.

Today as news of the damage and the need start to trickle in, we are well and truly beginning our response. While we wait for the formal assessment we are preparing to reach very remote locations, procuring water purification tablets that will be essential to be able to provide clean water, finding out where we can get large quantities of rice.

I have seen on CNN and BBC reports of the Typhoon hitting Vietnam and Cambodia, but it has hit us here in Laos as well and hit us hard. The remoteness of the country means information is slow to emerge but we know that many people are going to need our assistance; now and well into the future.

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