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Survivors of Laos' PNPC Dam Disaster Still Struggling

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Survivors of a July 2018 dam disaster described as Laos’ worst flooding in decades are still dealing with physical and mental hardship, according to an official of a South Korean-led relief effort.

The disaster occurred when a saddle dam at the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy (PNPC) hydropower project collapsed, inundating 12 villages and killing at least 40 people in Champassak and Attapeu provinces, leaving many more missing.

PNPC was a consortium between formed by a local Lao company and South Korea’s SK Engineering & Construction. Korean involvement in the project has prompted Seoul to send its own relief teams to Laos to help mitigate the effects of the disaster.

A Korean official tied to the relief effort who visited Attapeu’s Sanamxay district in January said in an interview with RFA’s Lao Service that the rehabilitation of victims is not happening fast enough. People still lack food and other necessities.

“[Supplying them with] food is the most difficult [issue],” said Yun Jiyoung, representative coordinator of the Korea CSO taskforce team formed to deal with the disaster.

Yun, a policy and advocacy director with the PEACEMOMO NGO said, “They are facing a most difficult situation because they only get rice from the government and just 5,000 kip per day [about $.70] to [cover the cost of] basic meal[s].”

Yun also said that survivors are also suffering mentally as they are traumatized by their experiences during and after the disaster.

“Some of them are still having nightmares about the night of the disaster,” she said, adding, “They feel scared when they visit their houses.”

She said what the people need most right now is a speedy return to their normal lives, before they were made to live in temporary housing with no income and no land suitable for agriculture.

“The people are saying they have no way to participate in any reconstruction or rehabilitation efforts since the collapse,” said Yun.

“[Many] still have not gotten any explanation about the cause of the disaster,” she said.

“I think the stakeholders and actors of the [PNPC] project did not give enough of an opportunity to [the survivors] to [have access] to knowledge about the current situation, or what reconstruction plans are in place [to help them,]” she said.

Reported by Phouvong for RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Sidney. Written in English by Eugene Whong.