Building bridges to connect people to their farm land in Laos

Huameuang’s old suspension bridge. Photo: Tineke D'haese/Oxfam
Huameuang’s old suspension bridge. Photo: Tineke D'haese/Oxfam.

The District Disaster Management Committee (DDMC) Hom & DDMC Kasi are two local public organizations responsible for disaster management in Laos. The Lao agriculture and cattle breeding industries are extremely sensitive to natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes and hurricanes. The DDMC’s role is to diminish risks related to natural disasters. The National Bureau for Catastrophe Management is the national authority that, in case of national disasters, coordinates relief measures. The National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) is also the highest authority regarding disaster prevention and – risk reduction.

Oxfam supports the NDMO and the DDMC’s of the districts Kasi (since 2010) and Hom (2012) to increase the resilience of approximately 23 villages in the region against natural disasters.

Huameuang

The village of Huameuang has a population of 631 people. Eighty per cent of the families from the village earn their income from cultivating the fields on the other side of the River Nam Lik, which altogether includes 150 acres of land. Until recently, a narrow bamboo bridge was the only connection between the village and the fields. With each flood the bridge became increasingly damaged until it reached the point where it was too risky for anyone to try to cross it.

Together with the villagers, the District Disaster Management Committee (DDMC) and Oxfam have built a new bridge a hundred meters further down the river. The new bridge is a basic concrete construction, with heavy iron cables and firm wooden beams. The villagers provided the wood themselves as well as the workforce to help build their bridge; the DDMC, together with the support of Oxfam, provided the cables and other material required, as well as technical support in planning and construction.

 Tineke D'haese/Oxfam

Huameuang’s villagers shipping construction materials across the river. Photo: Tineke D'haese/Oxfam.

At the start of the project in January 2013 Oxfam hired an engineer to supervise the construction project throughout the whole process; at the end of the project in October 2013, the DDMC hired a technical employee to continue to follow up on the project.

Tineke D'haese/Oxfam

Mother and child walking across the new built suspension bridge in Huameuang. Photo:Tineke D'haese/Oxfam.

Nathen

Nathen has a population of 673 people, of whom 334 are women. The village is connected to its rice fields, its fish nursery and other fields by a narrow wooden suspension bridge over the river Nam Lik, from where the villagers get their food supplies. The bridge was built ten years ago; before that all basic transportation and traffic occurred by boat. With each flood though the wooden suspension bridge became increasingly unstable.

Women walking across Nathen's repaired suspension bridge. Photo: Tineke D'haese/Oxfam.Women walking across Nathen's repaired suspension bridge. Photo: Tineke D'haese/Oxfam.

Women walking across Nathen's repaired suspension bridge. Photo: Tineke D'haese/Oxfam.

With the materials and support of Oxfam, and the help of the villagers, the DDMC rectified the problem with the bridge in July 2013. It was raised by 50 cm, so that water would not cover the bridge during the expected floods. Thicker cables, solid wooden boards and a basic iron construction have ensured that it is more resilient.The most vulnerable families in the village were also provided with a Family Disaster Plan.  The plan provides guidance about what to do; before, during and after a disaster.

 Tineke D'haese/Oxfam

Bouasy (53) shows her Family’s Disaster Plan. Photo: Tineke D'haese/Oxfam.