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Encounters with Lizard Soup, Blessing Ceremonies, and Community Resolve to Adapt to Climate Change in Rural Lao PDR
Author: Pakprim Oranop-na-Ayuthaya  |  Posted on 17 June 2015  |   Comments

This past May, on the day that the USAID Mekong ARCC project team was to begin our week of field work in the villages of Nakai in Lao PDR’s Khammouan Province, unseasonal heavy rains made the road leading to the community site too dangerous to travelers, and as a result, our trip was postponed. While disappointed, we weren’t surprised by this unusual weather event since unseasonal and variable rains are one of the effects of climate change that villagers had identified last year during a participatory decision-making process to develop a climate change adaptation plan.

A few days later, the roads were dry and we made our journey to our target local communities in Nakai District. Good thing, because if the trip had been rescheduled we might not have been able to return to the villages all. Located in a low valley across a karst limestone mountain, the main road to the village is entirely cut off during the rainy season that usually begins in June.

The villages face serious challenges associated with limited accessibility in the rainy season and diminished water supply in the dry season. Despite the unseasonal rains this year, the villagers’ water supplies were still extremely scarce during our visit. The public water outlet was completely dry, and people had to walk further toward the source to get water. Drop by drop, water barely trickled from the source into the buckets of several women and children waiting patiently for what most of us take for granted as always available from the nearest faucet. Dwindling food and water supplies in the last few months of the dry season leads to inadequate nutrition and consumption of unclean water in the Nakai Villages, increasing people’s vulnerability to illness. During the trip, we came across several incidences of typhoid fever among village children. According to a district doctor, gastrointestinal infections become more prevalent in the dry season.

Villagers are highly dependent on non-timber forest products from the surrounding forest for their food, which mainly consists of wild vegetables and small animals. On the night we spent in the village, our host family graciously offered to share with us their dinner, which included lizard and bamboo shoot soup. We politely declined and instead opted for the rice and stir-fried gourd we brought with us. As we ate, we considered each other’s meals with mutual interest and amusement before retreating to our mosquito nets for a good night’s sleep.  We got another chance to try the soup the next evening, and as our “city” food was finished, we were left with little choice to avoid a restless night with an empty stomach. Nonetheless, we were only intrepid enough to eat the bamboo shoots and lizard soup broth, forgoing the meat that villagers say tastes better than chicken; perhaps we will be more courageous next time.

As reliable water sources are increasingly threatened by the higher temperatures and prolonged dry seasons in this basin of the Lower Mekong, household consumption and food security will be increasingly impacted for these villages in the future. During our community decision-making process, community members shared their mounting concerns about water shortages. Now, USAID Mekong ARCC and project partner International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Laos are working with these communities to improve their water storage, distribution and management systems.

During this trip, our mission was to facilitate the creation of a community monitoring and evaluation (M&E) plan, in which villagers would identify their own indicators of success. They would also determine what data should be collected by whom, as well as how and when it should be collected. This community-led M&E is part of the learning-by-doing approach that provides communities with the tools necessary to track progress in adapting to changing environmental conditions. Through this ongoing activity, they will learn to determine whether their adaptation actions are working and how to make adjustments accordingly.