ATTAPEU, Laos and KERALA, India — Two devastating and unrelated flooding incidents in Asia have resulted in high numbers of death and displacement. In August 2018, Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) sent $9,500 toward relief efforts.
On July 23, a dam for a hydroelectric power generation facility in Laos collapsed resulting in a torrent of water overflowing down a mountain into tributaries of the Mekong River. Flooding has impacted the provinces of Attapeu and Champasak, where the dam is located.
EMM provided funds to a Southeast Asian organization — which will not be named for sensitivity reasons. These funds are being used to distribute water filtration systems to affected people in the village of Phindong and the district of Sanamxai.
The director of this organization stopped to listen to people’s stories — many who had lost a family member. One of the stories the director heard in Sanamxai was from a man who had just returned from identifying the body of his child, after one week of searching.
The director said the organization delivered and set up the filters, and will provide periodic checkups in the future. Thus far, 80 water filters have been distributed, providing clean water for those affected by the flooding.
“Not much was reported, but the first flooding actually occurred as a result of a different reservoir overflowing the day before the dam broke,” said the director. “There was a landslide which wiped out some homes, closed a road for at least a day, and flooded rice fields with mud, destroying them.”
Flooding has displaced 6,000 people and resulted in 34 deaths in Laos alone. These numbers are the official counts, but the actual number of deaths is believed to be over 100. In addition to Laos, three other nations in the region have been impacted: Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Northern Cambodia, downriver from the dam, has experienced immense flooding, displacing about 25,000 people.
The hydroelectric plant produced 90 percent of its power exclusively for its neighboring nation to the west, Thailand.
In Sanamxai, there are between 1,500–2,000 people estimated to be housed at one secondary school, with 30–40 people living in each classroom.
The organization’s strategy was to find one person from each room and give them a filter. The director indicated that they recorded the people’s names and phone numbers if they still had phones.
In the village of Phindong, 370 people were being housed in a local school because their homes were destroyed by the flooding. Reaching Phindong has been particularly challenging, as it is located in the forest, and there are no bridges over the several river crossings en route to this village.
“The rains here have increased a lot and there is increased flooding not related to the dam collapse that is hindering relief efforts,” said the director.
More than 2,000 miles west of Attapeu, monsoon season rains, beginning on August 8, caused catastrophic flooding in the southern Indian state of Kerala. Being referred to as the worst flood in the state in over 100 years, the deluge has tragically claimed the lives of at least 483 people and resulted in the evacuation of more than one million residents.
Many workers of EMM’s partner ministry, the Pocket Testament League (PTL) of India, were among the affected. EMM’s regional representative for Central and South Asia who will not be named for sensitivity reasons — stated that PTL India has already used funds from EMM to provide relief for 262 households. They have distributed food, school supplies, and cleaning materials.
PTL India is hoping to “be involved in 10 of the relief camps that have been established,” said EMM’s regional representative for Central and South Asia. These relief camps provide food, medicine, and school supplies.
Former EMM workers Baby John and Ponnamma Vellaramala live in Kerala. The Vellaramals are providing relief, along with a local church planting network, through food, clothes, and medicine. They are hoping to be able to also help with reconstruction efforts.