The road to Sang Ma Sao commune, Bat Xat district was rugged by freestones. Sometimes the road was blocked by huge rocks. Mr. Sung A Nhe, head of the commune public security team said, "These huge rocks are the remains of last year's floods. Flash floods here are becoming more violent than ever before".
As Mr. Nghe recalled last year's floods, he could not help feeling so excited. The floods had swept away schools, part of the community house, and 30 households. As Mr. Nghe said, flash floods seem to take place every year. As flood season is coming, villagers could not help worrying.
Like Sang Ma Sao commune, many other communes in Lao Cai western districts such as Sa Pa, Bat Xat, and Van Ban are so often suffering from flash floods, land slides in flood season, which may cause a great deal of personal and property losses. An assessment by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Lao Cai is among the northern mountainous provinces that are highly susceptible to flash floods and land slide with an annual average record of 10 to 15 landslides and flash floods.
Also as shown by the statistics by Lao Cai Provincial Storm and Flood Prevention and Control Committee, flash floods and land slide have killed dozens of people and caused a toll of 40-60 billion VND, and particularly destroyed local traffic infrastructure, schools, irrigation facilities, etc. All these damages make it extremely difficult for agriculture production and for local people's lives.
Proactive disaster risk prevention and control
Weather situations are believed to be complicated this year. Lao Cai province is likely to experience flash floods. In face of this, Lao Cai provincial authorities have set their goals on storm and flood prevention and control, that is, everyone should be proactive in flood and storm prevention and control in order to minimize preventable adverse impacts of flash floods and land slide, which otherwise may cause deaths and billion VND property losses in the highlands regions.
Flood and storm prevention and control in Lao Cai province this year is of commune rather than district-based type as previously. Moreover, in high-risk communes, local community shall be trained on natural disaster prevention and control.
Two months before storm season, Sang Ma Sao organized trainings on natural disaster prevention and mitigation. In such gatherings, villagers were taught about flood prevention and control in order to minimize preventable losses. Such trainings were held at the venue of the commune people's committee. Participants to the trainings included commune leaders and representatives from 8 hamlets and/or villages. During the trainings, trainees were provided with very helpful visual aids, manuals, first-aid stretchers, etc. After each session, trainees actively took part in rehearsals.
What the local people learned from the trainings is very practical. They learned how to fasten their houses, set up their tents away from high-risk areas, move furniture, provide first aid treatment for the injured. "It came as a big surprise to me. Not until I join the trainings, did I know that there was a lot to do in flood prevention and control. Now I understand that strictly following the procedures the villagers would avoid a great deal of losses. I will pass what I have learned, which I think is very practical, from the trainings to the villagers", said Ms. Tao Thi Pua, Vice President of Sang Ma Sao commune people's committee.
Coming back from the trainings, commune leaders went from village to village to instruct villagers about flood prevention and control. This practice had very soon proven to be very helpful. Villagers had become more proactive in flood prevention and control.
Flood season is coming. Villagers in Phin Ngan, a commune frequently exposed to flash floods, are now urgently preparing for this year's flood season. Over the past two years, the Women Union of Phin Ngan commune has been advocating its members to join in the trainings on natural disaster prevention and control.
Members of the women union have been provided with improved knowledge about how to prevent and control floods, take mitigation measures in the aftermath of flash floods and land slide and other types of natural disasters. They also learned methods for assessing and appraising disaster losses, risk prevention and control advocacy, and risk mitigation measures. After the trainings, the participants developed plans and strategies on their own to response to natural disasters, mobilized available labour force, monitored the progress of natural disaster prevention and control, set up a pilot flash flood and land slide early warning system for high-risk communities. Ms. Chao Coi May, Director of Trung Chai commune women's union said, "The program's practical benefits have attracted the active participation of the members".
"One dong for prevention would save 7 dongs for relief activities in return"
Since early 2009, the project "Improved capacity for natural disaster prevention and control for highlands communities" (which is sponsored by JANI) has been implemented in Lao Cai province. JANI stands for Joint Advocacy Network Initiative. This is a joint project on natural disaster prevention, control, and relief advocacy in the world. JANI includes 14 members, including ActionAid, CARE, Oxfam, and CECI, etc). With the support from JANI, much progress has been made in natural disaster prevention and control in Lao Cai province. Hundreds of leaders and villagers in 4 high-risk communes of Trung Chai, Ban Ho (Sa Pa), Sang Ma Sao, and Phin Ngan (Bat Xat) have been provided with trainings and improved skills on assessing and organizing natural disaster prevention, control and mitigation. In addition, the program also sought to raise public awareness about natural disaster prevention and control through community level communications. The program developed systems of telephoning, early warning and loudspeakers. The project principle, which is set forth by JANI, is "To respect and appreciate the participation of local communities and their experience. One dong for prevention would save 7 dongs for relief activities in return."