UN Disaster Risk Reduction Chief: Building Back Better Makes Communities More Resilient

October 09, 2012

Ms. Margareta Wahlström, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, concluded her four-day visit to Lao PDR on Saturday when she travelled to Khammouane province to meet people who had been affected by last year’s flooding.

The community members in Thahad and Buonghuona villages told Ms. Wahlstrom how their lives had been affected by severe flooding that followed the Nock-ten storm in August 2011.

Ms. Wahlström had been visiting Laos to address the Asian and European Parliamentarians, who had gathered to Vientiane for ASEP-7, as well as to meet Government leaders and the Development community to explore ways to further strengthen disaster risk reduction in the country.

Ms. Wahlström travelled to Khammouane to see how a disaster response project, implemented by the United Nations Agency for Human Settlements (UN-HABITAT), had successfully incorporated Building Back Better-approach to mitigate future disaster risk. The project, partly funded by the European Commission, has rehabilitated or rebuilt nearly 350 flood-affected latrines and dug wells as well as provided building tools and roof sheets for 200 families, covering up to 40 villages in Sebangfai District.

By integrating basic disaster risk reduction features for buildings as well as water-and sanitation infrastructure, Building Back Better-designs are able to increase the resilience of the local communities to disasters.

"Projects like this are very important as they show to communities that they can do something about floods and prevent them. Having elevated wells or latrines are important mitigation measures that will help the entire community when the next floods hit", Ms. Wahlström said.

According to Avi Sarkar, UN-HABITAT’s Regional Advisor, it was the first time Building Back Better-guidelines were developed and fully adapted to the Lao context. “Through this project, we were able to raise awareness on the approach not only within the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MPWT), but also at provincial, district and village levels through workshops, carpenter training sessions and practical demonstrations”, Mr. Sarkar said.

Major construction and rehabilitation work was carried out for six demonstration houses in five villages, and communities were involved in the project implementation from the beginning. Because the Build Back Better- designs use only locally available materials, communities are easily able to replicate them.

During her visit, Ms. Wahlström also met with local authorities including Khammouane Province Governor, Sebagfai District Governor as well as other local government officials, who asked for the UN’s continued support for strengthening the Province’s capacity to mitigate the impact of disasters. The UN Disaster Risk Reduction Chief, who has more than 30 years of extensive national and international experience in humanitarian relief operations in disaster and conflict areas, commended the communities, government authorities and UN-HABITAT for working together effectively on the project.

Avi Sarkar from UN-HABITAT explained that even though the scope of the project was limited, its impact has been considerable for those on the ground: “Many of the same villages have been flooded again this year, but now their water and sanitation facilities remain unaffected”.

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