Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Lao flood emergency: delivering safe water and sanitation for children at risk

By Simon Nazer

Children used a newly installed water tap in Ban Bok camp, Lao PDR © UNICEF/2018/Nazer

UNICEF, with the support of USAID, is working to install water pumps and toilets in camps for children and families displaced by the floods which swept through south Lao PDR late July this year.

Khao Yai, 12, is currently staying in Ban Bok camp. His family lost everything during the floods. 
© UNICEF/2018/Nazer

Witnessing the floods take their homes and in many cases livelihoods was an overwhelming experience for children and families. “I just remember water coming into my home and people shouting,” says Khao Yai, 12, who is staying in a camp in Bon Bok. “I don’t really remember much after that. We just had to go right away, we left everything.”

Widespread flood damage enroute to Ban Bok camp. © UNICEF/2018/Nazer

Khao’s experience is shared with over 4,000 other people who were displaced by the floods.

During such emergencies, access to clean water and sanitation facilities becomes extremely important to ensure people stay healthy and clear of potentially life-threatening diseases. This is why one of UNICEF’s priorities is to deliver safe water and sanitation facilities to hard-to-reach camps like Ban Bok, with USAID’s support.

A newly installed water pump in Ban Bok camp. © UNICEF/2018/Nazer

UNICEF has also provided 35 water points and constructed seven latrines in Ban Bok camp alone. Soap, tarpaulins, buckets, bowls and jerry cans have been distributed to all camps except those which are inaccessible.

Children participate in handwashing promotion activities. © UNICEF/2018/Nazer

Handwashing with soap is among the most effective and inexpensive ways to prevent diarrheaol diseases and pneumonia, which together are responsible for the majority of child deaths globally and become more prevalent during emergencies. 

Facilitors use stories to teach children about the importance of handwashing and good hygiene practices.  
© UNICEF/2018/Nazer

In order to deliver messages on handwashing, outreach teams supported by UNICEF visit camps to teach children about the importance of handwashing and how to wash their hands properly. Children like Khao take part in singing, dancing and storytelling activities to ensure they learn the right habits that will keep them safe for a lifetime.

Children participate in the handwashing song. © UNICEF/2018/Nazer

“Our teacher already taught us how to wash our hands at school and I use the new tap a lot,” says Khao. “I’m also using the new toilet here, it’s much better than going out in the open.”

(L) Khao Yai washes his hands in a newly installed tap in his camp. 
(R) A girl enters a newly built latrine in Ban Bok camp. © UNICEF/2018/Nazer

While it’ll take time to rebuild after what happened, delivering safe water and sanitation facilities to children like Khao, and their communities, is the first step to ensuring they stay healthy and happy.

Bringing good health & nutrition to children affected by floods in Laos

By Simon Nazer

Carrots diced, onions sliced and pumpkins quartered – mothers in Oudomxay camp, Lao PDR are learning how to prepare nutritious food that’ll help them and their children thrive. Floods in Lao PDR last month left 4,000 people homeless and in temporary shelters. With crops and cattle destroyed, the food situation has become critical and children are often among the first to suffer.

Today, mothers  in Oudomxay camp are being taught how to prepare healthy food by two trainers from the Provincial Nutrition Team. “We’re preparing food for children who were affected by the flood,” says the head of that team, Ms. Vilaysan.



“During the flood, there was little access to food, particularly nutritious food like this. We’re taking this opportunity to give them a healthy meal and teach the families about healthy eating, using locally grown and available food.”

For one of the mothers, Southa, it’s a valuable learning experience. “This is the first time I’ve had a chance to learn about healthy food,” she says. “Before I just cooked traditional food and didn’t know about mixing different types of foods to help children develop, it’s great to learn about this.”



Funding from MMG and the European Union, have made it possible for UNICEF to support the provincial team with Infant and Young Child Feeding training. Because of this support, health workers and health volunteers have the knowledge and skills needed to counsel mothers on how to prepare healthy meals for their children by mixing different varieties of vegetables and proteins that will  help children develop. It’s particularly important to maintain a healthy diet during emergencies when children can be vulnerable to disease and illness.




“We’ve done an assessment and it’s clear that children have been affected by the flood and need this support,” says Ms. Vilaysan. “There’s always a risk of their health declining so it’s important we ensure they’re provided with healthy food, in a sustainable way.”

The toll of the flood



In nearby Sanamxai District Hospital, the toll of the flood on children is only too clear. Since the flood, referrals have skyrocketed to the point where a temporary shelter was built in the hospital yard – using a UNICEF tarpaulin – to handle the additional patients.

One such case is 2-year-old Vanly (name changed). She lays in a bed barely conscious with a drip taped to her tiny arm with some cardboard for support. On each bed around her, another child lays with a drip feeding into their arm, with their worried parents watching over them.

“She had diarrhoea for ten days and the drugs weren’t helping,” said her mother as she sat by her bed nursing her weak child. “My village was affected by the flood and we moved to the camp. Since then, I noticed Vanly getting weaker and sicker. The doctor sent us here when the medicine wasn’t working.”

Sadly, this can be a common sight during emergencies: with less healthy food and without access to clean water and sanitation facilities, children increasingly fall sick and find it difficult to get back to good health.

“We’ve been here for a day and I don’t know how long we’ll be here for,” says Vanly’s mother. “I just hope she’s feeling better soon.”

For this reason, UNICEF is prioritising nutrition screening of children in camps, treatment of malnutrition cases and the promotion of breastfeeding. Ready-to-use therapeutic food and micro-nutrient supplements have also be delivered on the ground to help undernourished children get back to health.

UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Health (MoH) to disseminate key messages on the prevention and management of diarrhoea, and on which danger signs to look for when children are sick that warrant immediate health care. Job aids for health workers have been developed and distributed to ensure lifesaving commodities such as zinc tablets are given with Oral rehydration solution to all children for treatment of diarrhoea, which can reduce the duration and severity of diarrhoea as well as improve their immunity.

Keeping disease and illness in check

MOH, with the support of UNICEF and WHO is delivering Cholera vaccinations, along with other routine vaccinations, to those in affected areas. The infectious disease can quickly spread during flood emergencies. It can cause severe diarrhoea which can lead to dehydration and even death if left untreated.

In addition, UNICEF staff are on the ground ensuring that children are receiving the recommended vaccinations against other preventable diseases such as measles, polio, diphtheria and tetanus.
For mothers like Southa, seeing services and support for her and her children is making a big difference while they come to terms with the disaster. “It’s a difficult time,” she says. “Any help we get to keep the children safe and healthy is good for us.”

UNICEF continues to work around the clock to deliver for children affected by the floods in Lao PDR.

Emergency in Laos: staying safe with clean water and sanitation

By Simon Nazer

Many children like 12-year-old Khao Yai are struggling to come to terms with what happened late July when a dam breached in southern Lao PDR, displacing thousands of people. “I just remember water coming into my home and people shouting,” he says. “I don’t really remember much after that.”

Khao and his family are now staying in a temporary shelter in the remote camp of Ban Bok. The route to the village is treacherous: roads are knee-high in flood water and mud while the scattered remains of people’s household items – wardrobes, sacks of rice, televisions – lie strewn outside homes.

“We just had to go right away, we left everything,” recounts Khao. His experience is shared with over 4,000 other people who were displaced by the floods. During such emergencies, access to clean water and sanitation facilities becomes extremely important to ensure people stay healthy and clear of potentially life-threatening diseases.

That’s why UNICEF, with the support of USAID, is working to install water points (drilling boreholes with hand motorized pump) and toilets in camps like Ban Bok. In addition to this, USAID is supporting UNICEF to deliver psychosocial support to children affected by the floods.

“I’m just staying in a tent nearby,” says Khao, never short of a smile, while standing next to a newly installed water pump. “I’m spending time with friends and studying Lao language. I like football and we play a lot, although it’s very wet so it’s not easy.”

Together with the National and Provincial Centres in Saravane and Attapeu for Environmental Health and Water Supply, UNICEF has provided 35 water points (boreholes with hand and electric pumps and stand pipes) and constructed 13 latrines (7 in Ban Bok and 6 in Pingdong). Soap, tarpaulins, buckets, bowls and jerry cans have been distributed to all camps except those two inaccessible and 30 solar lamps from the Government of Australia will be soon installed in the camps, near the toilets. Hygiene promotion activities are also being carried out.

At times of crisis, children like Khao are more susceptible to illness and death from diseases that are often caused by lack of sanitation, inadequate safe water and poor hygiene. Without access to basic water and sanitation services, and without the practice of good hygiene, the danger of diarrhoea, cholera and other disease outbreaks is high.

The support from UNICEF and USAID is ensuring access of affected populations to safe drinking water through the distribution of 200,000 water purification tablets to treat water.   

In addition to installing taps and toilets, UNICEF also helps affected communities to teach children and families the importance of handwashing to help stay clear of disease and illness.

“Our teacher already taught us how to wash our hands at school and I use the new tap a lot,” says Khao. “I’m also using the new toilet here, it’s much better than going out in the open.”

While it’ll take time to rebuild after what happened, delivering safe water and sanitation facilities to children like Khao, and their communities, is the first step to ensuring they stay healthy and happy.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Smiling again after the flood in Laos

By Simon Nazer

Since a huge flood in the south of Lao PDR left thousands homeless, child friendly spaces have been set-up in remote camps to give children a safe area to learn and play with trained volunteer teachers.

UNICEF and partners such as Save the Children, Plan International and Child Fund led by the Ministry of Education and Sports and the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, with the support of the Australian Government and USAID, are supporting the Government to create a happy space to help children heal from the trauma of the disaster.

We recently visited some spaces and the smiles tell their own story.


Nado, 2, loved running around and using the slide. “I want to come back tomorrow,” he said before running off to join the queue for the slide. 


2-year old Donut, right, couldn’t get enough of the activities. “I like it lots,” she said. “I hope I can come again every day!”


One mother who was watching her child play really valued the child friendly space. “My daughter likes it here very much,” she says. “I think this is really great for the kids.”


“I think it’s good to bring the children together,” continued the mother of 4-year-old Vanmai. “It’s much more active here than just sitting in our tent, alone with her few toys. I can see she’s more active and happy here.”


The child friendly spaces allow children to heal after the trauma of the floods where thousands of people lost their homes and livelihood to huge floods. The tent is equipped with UNICEF’s School in a Box and volunteer teachers have be trained to give children and mothers support to move on from the trauma. 

As well as playing, children also learn while their schools are closed. This helps keep their learning on track before they can go back to school and restart their lives.


UNICEF is continuing its work for the many children affected by the floods to help them and their families get their lives back on track. 


Flood emergency in Laos: A haven for happiness in Laos

By Simon Nazer


For many children like 6-year-old Laura, the last month has been a distressing time. Huge floods in Southern Lao PDR triggered by a damn breaking have taken away her home and her parents’ livelihood, and her aunt remains missing. But today she is smiling again thanks to a new child friendly space in her camp that is bringing fun, games and learning to her each and every day.

“She’s really happy there, she never wants to leave,” says Laura’s mother while watching on. “As soon as she wakes up in the morning she asks to go right away.”


The flood has affected over 13,000 people and left around a third of those in camps like Laura’s in remote Ban Bok. UNICEF and partners are working to deliver clean water, sanitation facilities, and non-food items such as hygiene kits, tarpaulins and medicines, among other things, to these hard-to-reach camps to help children and families stay safe and healthy. Nutrition screening of children in camps, treatment of malnutrition cases and promotion of exclusive breastfeeding are some of the priorities for UNICEF in the aftermath of the flash floods. 

UNICEF, with support from the Australian Government and USAID, UNICEF is working to provide a safe space for children to learn and play before they can go back to their schools. So far six child friendly spaces have been setup, supporting about 1,000 children. 


For Laura, coming here is the highlight of her day. “I really, really like it,” she says while finishing a reading activity. “My favourite thing to do here is the mango game!”


Volunteer teachers like 21-year-old Malaithone spend around four hours a day with Laura and her friends, teaching them games and songs as well as taking them through counting and reading activities. 

“This is really good for children and it’s important to give them a safe space after all the problems,” she says. “I’m actually very happy to be here to help – I just graduated from teacher training and I’ll be here for as long as I’m needed.” 


“It was a distressing time for them,” continues Malaithone while preparing for another activity. “This helps take their minds off of what happened – it’s making them smile again.”

A safe space for every child affected by disaster

Laura is shy at first but Malaithone leads her and the others through a series of activities to help them relax and open up. Sure enough, after a few minutes of introductions Laura is dancing and playing with all the other children.

“It’s difficult to stay in this camp, she misses her home,” explains Laura’s mother. “We don’t know how long we’ll be here and what the future holds. It’s hard here but I’m so thankful for this safe space for her to play and to help keep all the children happy.”

The tents are equipped with UNICEF’s School in a Box to help teachers bring the best out of children. “There are lots of materials in the box like books, blocks ad balls for games, colouring kits,” says Malaithone. “It’s very useful for us teachers and the children.”


Disasters such as these can have huge, long-term impacts on children’s mental well-being. This is why, with support from partners -  Save the Children, Plan International and Child Fund, under the leadership of the Ministry of Education and Sports and the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, the volunteers are also trained to provide psychosocial support to the children and women affected by the flood.

This space will give Laura and the many affected children like her a better chance to move on from the disaster and to start learning, and smiling, again.