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After devastating floods, UNESCO drives efforts to revitalize cultural life in Laos

31 January 2019


Oy community women talk to UNESCO officers in the wake of the devastating floods
© UNESCO/Anousack Inthilath

Following deadly floods that swept through Laos between July and September 2018, UNESCO launched a Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) to determine the impact on the built and living cultural heritage of the affected areas.
An initial assessment by two international experts alongside a national team of staff from both the Heritage and the Tourism Departments of Laos concluded that the floods had significantly compromised the country’s heritage and tourism sectors, with the greatest impact observed in the provinces of Attapeu, Khammouane, Savannakhet and Champasak where many villagers lost their lives.
“Although damage to tangible heritage was less extensive, it was valuable that the PDNA report has been able to point out the impacts on the intangible cultural heritage and how the communities have been affected by the disaster,” said Viengkeo Souksavatdy, Deputy Director-General of the Heritage Department of the Ministry of Culture, Information  and Tourism of Laos..
Damage to nearby forests, moreover, has exacerbated losses for villagers belonging to the country’s Oy ethnic minority, as each Oy village has a designated sacred forest for traditional ceremonies, reflecting the Oy’s deeply held cultural links to the natural environment.
Oy master musician Pane described how the floods hit his village of Attapeu “as fast as a train” and “quickly rose to the height of the electricity poles”.  Pane lost all his musical instruments in the floods and he has been unable to collect bamboo and wood to make new ones to resume his livelihood because of the damage wrought to forests. The floods have taken an emotional toll on Pane and many other villagers who are without the means to reconnect with their livelihood and give expression to their intangible cultural heritage. 
Coordinated by the UNESCO Bangkok Office, the PDNA includes a recovery strategy to address these losses and for the revitalization of the culture sector, a key priority for UNESCO and the Government of Laos.  The strategy includes recommendations that engage both government authorities and local communities, and aim to encourage potential donors to contribute to the recovery process.

The intervention in Laos was possible thanks to support by UNESCO’s Heritage Emergency Fund.