Securing Lives and Livelihoods in Southern Vientiane through Climate Mitigation
Published: 29 December 2021
Farmers are managing seasonal floods and droughts better, thanks to a modern irrigation system, flood-proof road, and disaster risk control measures.
Vientiane, the capital city of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), is situated in the lower basin of the Mekong River. Large fluctuations in the water levels of the river often caused flooding during the wet season and drought in the dry season in the surrounding areas. Extensive flooding and a prolonged drought damage properties and crops.
Villages in the southern part of Vientiane are particularly exposed to seasonal flooding and drought. People still remember the catastrophic flood of 2008, which exacted a high toll of $56 million in damages.
A project supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is helping farmers and affected communities in Vientiane manage floods and droughts with climate-resilient infrastructure and nonstructural measures, such as enhanced disaster risk management. Improvements made by the project not only reduced the vulnerability of communities to extreme weather events but also increased agricultural productivity, connectivity, and livelihood opportunities in the area.
- 6 November 2012 : Project approved
- 30 September 2021 : Date completed
- $36.5 million :Total financing (ADB loan and grant)
The Mekong River stands apart because of the large fluctuations in seasonal discharge—very low flows in the dry season yet extensive flooding in the wet season. River flow is largely unaffected by water control structures and follows the seasonal hydrological cycle.
The four countries in the Lower Mekong Basin—Cambodia, the Lao PDR, Thailand, and Viet Nam—have varying levels of capacity to prepare for and manage flood- and drought-related disasters. Actions are mostly reactive, rather than proactive, and are uncoordinated.
Unless weather-resilient infrastructure and sufficient disaster preparedness are put in place, the anticipated impacts of climate change are likely to worsen flooding and drought problems
It was difficult to move people and goods in southern Vientiane because of the subpar quality of the transport infrastructure and inefficient network linkages to the center of Vientiane and other nearby cities. During the rainy season, unpaved roads turned to mud, making it difficult to drive, while it was dusty and bumpy in the dry season. Agricultural goods were not easily transported. Farmers saw their produce stocked up for a long time or worst, laid to waste.
The impacts of floods and droughts were magnified as most of the affected communities are poor and vulnerable. Helping these people to withstand environmental impacts would improve their financial and economic status and enable them to climb out of poverty. It is crucial to effectively assess and manage climate change impacts to enable a more environmentally sustainable growth.
The Greater Mekong Subregion Flood and Drought Risk Management and Mitigation Project is a regional project for flood and drought-prone communities in the Lower Mekong Basin. In the Lao PDR, it supported the government in undertaking structural and nonstructural measures to prepare for and manage disaster risks linked to floods and droughts and prevent economic and human losses.
The project covered the construction of flood and drought management infrastructure. These included 32.2 kilometers of flood protection embankment, a 30-km flood-proof road (about 6 km of single-lane, all-weather road and 26.4 km of double-lane, black topped road), water management sluice gates at the Mak Hiao and Houay Deua rivers, and improvement of five irrigation schemes at Sang Houabor, Dongkhuay 1, Dongkhuay 2, Nalong-3 and Mak Hiao. These irrigation schemes store rainwater in the reservoirs during the wet season and slowly release the water during the dry season for rice production.
Improving the disaster preparedness of countries and communities to manage and mitigate the potential impacts of extreme floods and droughts also requires nonstructural initiatives. These include institutional and technical capacity building activities to strengthen information and knowledge sharing among Lower Mekong Basin countries in the areas of water resources management in general, and flood and drought management in particular. The project also trained farmers on how to manage the entire agriculture process through Water User Groups, demonstration gardens, and techniques on increasing food crop yields.
Community-based disaster risk management equipped people with access to information on disaster risks to enhance their preparedness. The project prepared 18 Safer Village Plans, which took into consideration gender-sensitive issues, which include, but are not limited to (i) consulting men and women for the preparation of the plans; (ii) identifying women's needs, such as access to information; and (iii) the plans taking women's needs into consideration. These were implemented in the Hatsayfong, Saythany and Pakngum Districts. Two-way channels for information sharing were set up between local communities, river basin management systems, national level early warning centers, and disaster forecasting centers.
The project built flood and drought management infrastructure that covers more than 20,000 hectares of rice paddies and directly benefits 61,500 people by minimizing floods during wet season and ensuring the supply of irrigation water in the dry season.
The newly improved road connecting southern Vientiane to the heart of the city has helped spur the growth of business establishments, increase the value of agricultural land, and boost access to services. More businesses are expected to open along the road, which is lighted at night with solar streetlights and offers a scenic view of the river.
The embankment-cum-road subproject has led to shortened travel time, improving mobility and convenience for commuters. Enhancing the quality of the road also increased the prospect of urban expansion. Environmental safety is also ensured after improving the existing road-dikes to protect against flood waters from the Mekong River.
Water control gates (sluices) control the flow of water along the That Luang Wetland. The system allows communities to keep water for agricultural production during the dry season. This has led to increased rice production and opened opportunities for producing high-value cash crops.
These improvements contribute to national development targets and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 11, to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.
Efficient and effective implementation. The simplicity of the project design, coupled with straightforward objectives, allowed swift implementation and ease of monitoring throughout the project. Despite being a small project, in terms of budget and coverage areas, the project maximized its benefits and positive impacts under the management of the executing agency and with ADB’s strict supervision and monitoring.
Climate change adaptation measures and good practices. To address extreme flood and drought events, irrigation, sluices, and flood protection schemes were included in the project design. In addition, the establishment of the national early warning center provides real-time information on the prevailing weather conditions and keeps records of extreme events.
The project helped increase disaster preparedness and resilience through prevention and/or modification of equipment and materials to minimize the impact of climate change. Through the modernization of sluices and by leveling up the access to Mak Hiao River to improve flood protection, the project showed that adaptation measures can also be applied to existing structures. The asphalt pavement improved road conditions in the area and reduced maintenance cost.
Community-based disaster risk management. An important strategy taken by the project was to enhance the capacity of the community to handle floods and droughts and better manage the structural investments supported by the project. In each of the communities where infrastructure development was undertaken, community-based disaster risk management was put in place to ensure that communities fully benefit from the improved water control infrastructure and flood warning system.
Strong inter-agency collaboration and leadership. As the project is implemented by multiple agencies from various line ministries, the strong inter-agency collaboration among the heads of each department (Department of Irrigation, Department of Waterway, Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, and Vientiane Capital Agriculture and Forestry Office) made the project implementation smooth and effective. Sufficient staffing was allotted, and each department’s duties were clarified at the early stage. These created a good working environment among the staff over the project’s life. The “hands-on” approach and good leadership of the project director also helped build teamwork, which was necessary to the project’s success.
Reliable information management system. The National Project Coordination Office (NPCO) developed a robust Data-Information Storage, Retrieval, and Management System. The system can easily be used to respond to all kinds of data inquiry and facilitated the preparation of high-quality reports by providing accurate information.
ADB. 2012. Proposed Loans, Grant, and Administration of Grant Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Socialist Republic of Viet Nam: Greater Mekong Subregion Flood and Drought Risk Management and Mitigation Project. Manila: ADB.
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