Mudslides swamp rice paddies in 5 villages in northwestern Laos

Farmers who lost crops in Bokeo province’s Huai Xai district are calling on the government to provide aid.
By RFA Lao
2022.09.20
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Mudslides swamp rice paddies in 5 villages in northwestern Laos Five villages in Huai Xai district in Laos’ Bokeo province have seen surrounding fields flooded by heavy rains and the release of water from upstream dams.
Screenshot from Bokeo Provincial Television

Floods and mudslides have destroyed rice paddies well ahead of harvest time in northwestern Laos, as heavy rains and water releases from a dam wiped away the livelihoods of small farmers in five villages, sources in the country told RFA.

Water released from the Nam Nhone dam pushed mud, sand and rocks onto fields in Pana, Hua Mouang, Hua Nam, old Nam Nhone, new Nam Nhone and Lao Luang villages in Huai Xai district in the northwestern province of Bokeo. Villagers there will now have to buy rice instead of growing their own, and are awaiting help from the central government.

“All the trees on the hill near my house had been cut down [for lumber] by the villagers, so when it rained it made a landslide so fast, and the logs and mud came down to the river,” a villager from Lao Luang told RFA’s Lao Service on condition of anonymity to speak freely.

“I haven’t seen a catastrophe like this in maybe 30 or 40 years. The damage was worst for people living at the river bank. Some of us lost some of our rice fields, but others lost all of their fields and even their house,” the villager said.

The 15-megawatt dam  often releases water during heavy rains, but this is the first time that a release has caused a landslide. 

A resident of a different village nearby said that government aid is necessary if the fields are to be ready for planting next year.

“When it rained, it flooded all over the rice fields. Then the dam released water to make even more damage,” the second villager said. “When it flooded it destroyed everything. We cannot use [our fields] because sand and rocks came down the hill in a landslide that covered everything. Up until now no related department has come down to help people.” 

The second villager said that local authorities did not give any warning prior to the flood. Residents are still waiting for relief and need rice, dry goods and other necessities. 

“Thankfully nobody died, and none of the houses [in this village] were destroyed,” the source said.

Damage claims totaled about 10 to 20 hectares (25 to 50 acres) per village, according to the second villager.

The rains have also toppled electric poles across roads, isolating the communities and leaving some villagers without electricity, an official from the Huai Xay district Department of Natural Disasters told RFA.

“Three rivers flow into the small dam upstream,” he said. “The waters cut off the roads so we cannot use them. The authorities are still repairing the road damage.

“The rice fields are not rice fields anymore. They are islands covered with mud,” the official said.

The authorities have asked the Transportation Department to assess the damage to the roads, the official said.

An official from the Department of Labor and Social Services told RFA that authorities are in the process of assessing the damage and plan to ask the central government to help locals recover, but they don’t know when that will happen.

“Nam Nhone dam is a small dam. Normally if there is regular rain without a landslide, it does not affect villagers’ rice fields when releasing water,” the labor and social service official said.

“Villagers can even use the water to irrigate their fields,” he said. “The authorities should help villagers to restore their damaged farmland. Remove the logs, rocks and mud from the landslide.”

Additionally, the electrical poles and roads will be handled by the Department of Transportation, he said.

Laos has constructed dozens of hydropower dams on the Mekong River and its tributaries in pursuit of its controversial economic strategy to become the “Battery of Southeast Asia.” 

The dams, along with the onset of climate change and deforestation, are causing more floods and mudslides during the May to October monsoon season each year.

Translated by Sidney Khotpanya. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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