Flooding in Laos can wash away childhood

Travel web sites describe Laos as a place of stunning beauty, filled with glistening monuments and breath-taking mountain vistas. It’s all true.

But here’s what the articles don’t say.

Laos’ people are beleaguered by natural disasters of all kinds. Flooding. Drought. Earthquakes and cyclones.
Take flooding alone. Rapidly rising waters can threaten the lives – and futures – of millions of Laotian girls and boys. Here are seven ways that flooding in Laos can wash away childhood.

Primary School, Latrine, and Kindergarten in Bok village was affected by the flood.

1. Laos’ flooding is costly for families, particularly children

In 2018 alone, Laos suffered its most costly floods in a decade, according to the World Bank. Floodwaters swept away homes, destroyed infrastructure, and wiped out farmers’ fields.

When parents can’t provide for their children, kids’ future opportunities can disappear. When schools are destroyed, children’s education can be interrupted or delayed indefinitely. Without help, rebuilding critical services like schools and health centres, children may lose the chance for brighter tomorrows.   

The affected families of the flooding in Laos receive a hygiene kit from World Vision.

2. Flooding in Laos destroys food sources

Around 70 per cent of Laotians work in the agricultural sector, with most struggling to grow enough even to feed their own families. Malnutrition has long been a critical issue here, even before flooding.

When floods do occur, parents quickly run out of ways to feed their children. Few have back-up options for earning money. When crops for entire regions are destroyed, the cost of staples like rice can double, due to lack of availability. Many parents can’t afford to buy food when their own crops are destroyed.

Communities affected by the flooding in Laos

3. Flooding can limit travel and business within Laos

Most Laotian communities are situated in the lowlands, near the country’s rivers. That’s because nearly 75 per cent of Laos is covered in mountains and forested hillsides.

This means millions of families live in flood zones. Flooding can wash out transport and waterway infrastructure, meaning people can’t do business, reach markets, ship goods – and access medical clinics. 

Without help, washed out roads and damaged buildings can take communities years to rebuild and repair.

4. Family debt can soar after flooding

Flooding can destroy parents’ farms and livelihoods – meaning they can’t pay their debts, let alone get ahead. Parents can’t provide the basics of life for their children. Usually, the poorest families suffer most.

The 2018 floods in Laos increased debt levels among the 70 per cent of Laotian households, which were already in debt.

5. Flooding threatens children’s health.  

Flooding can cause dangers like malnutrition and dengue fever for children. Malnutrition – already a threat for millions of Laotian children – worsens when parents’ fields and livelihoods are destroyed.

Standing floodwaters offer places for dengue-carrying mosquitos to breed. Because of damage to health facilities, which would normally reduce the spread and impact of illness, the disease can be given free reign.

Anywhere in the world, children’s immune systems are less developed than adults’, leaving them especially vulnerable to illness. Children growing up in areas battling climate change are even more vulnerable, according to The Lancet medical journal.

Children sit on the floor smiling for the camera during the distribution of relief food items to 258 households in Boungxang village, Laos.

6. Floodwaters can cause physical threats to children.

Children are the smallest, lightest people in any community. They can be carried away or drowned by rushing waters.

When schools and community spaces are deluged, there are few safe spaces for children to play. Weakened buildings can collapse even as floodwaters recede.

When adults’ tempers fray in their attempts to cope with the challenges of flooding, children can be victims of physical abuse.

7. Flooding can shift unexploded bombs 

Between 1964 and 1973, the United States dropped 270 million bombs on Laos. About a third failed to detonate on impact, leaving the countryside littered with unexploded ordnance.  

The 2018 flooding caused a dam in one Laotian province to burst, shifting unexploded ordnance like bombs.

Children are often out playing or gathering firewood. They can encounter these mysterious pieces of metal – and reach for them. This can result in injury, maiming or even death.

In a country like Canada, flooding can be devastating. But our internal emergency response systems help ensure lives are protected. Social networks are there to ensure children’s needs are met – whatever challenges their parents and communities face in the wake of disasters.

In much the same way, caring donors from places like Canada can help communities in Laos hold their children’s futures high above the floodwaters.

Visit the Laos page and learn more.