Environment

Laos makes substantial progress in human development: NERI Report

March 22, 2013

Laos has made substantial progress in its human development over the past almost three decades, making the country one of the human development index (HDI) growth leaders in the medium human development category, a report issued yesterday revealed.

The significant gains made in economic growth and social welfare over recent years have paved the way for continued improvement in human development in Laos, according to the global 2013 Human Development Report revealed at yesterday’s launching ceremony in Vientiane.

Between 1985 and 2012, substantial progress has been made in the main HDI indicators. Life expectancy increased by 19 years, the average number of years of schooling increased by 2.5, and Gross National Income per capita increased by about 178 percent.

“Consequently, Laos has seen steady improvement in its HDI value over time, making the country one of the HDI growth leaders in the medium human development category, where it currently sits,” the report said.

The National Economic Research Institute organised the launch of the report entitled “The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World”, sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Overall, the HDI of Laos stood at 0.543 in the 2012 Human Development Report which positioned the country at 138 out of 187 countries and territories in the world. However, when discounted for inequality, the HDI value for Laos falls to 0.409, a loss of about 25 percent.

“Our analysis confirms a message found in every Human Development Report: economic growth does not automatically translate into human development. Significant investments in people, in education and skills as well as in nutrition and health, are vital,” said UNDP Resident Representative Mr Minh Pham.

The report examines the fast-changing world and the implications for human development at the global level.

The report projects that by 2030, more than 80 percent of the world’s middle class will reside in the South, and that the Asia-Pacific region will be home to about two-thirds of the new global middle class.

By 2020, the report projects, the combined output of the three leading economies – China, India, Brazil – will surpass the aggregate production of the United States, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Italy and Canada.

The 2013 report identifies more than 40 developing countries with human development gains that significantly outpaced global norms in recent decades.

However, it warns that failure to address persistent inequalities, and a lack of opportunities for meaningful civic participation, could threaten this progress unless leaders take bold corrective actions. Environmental inaction, especially regarding climate change, has the potential to halt or even reverse human development progress in the world’s poorest countries and communities.

Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment, Dr Bounthavy Sisouphanthong, believes the report contains valuable information about the nature of and challenges for human development that will be an important reference for all parties involved in development planning and policy making.

The HDI is calculated by taking into account the combined indicators of life expectancy, education and income. It covers both social and economic development.

The global Human Development Reports are published annually with National Human Development Reports produced every four years. Since 1998, Laos has published four national reports.

The next one is due in 2014 and will focus on achieving the MDGs as a vital element of both Least Developed Country graduation and in reducing inequalities and vulnerabilities across communities in all regions of the country.

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Farmers leading the charge out of poverty in Vientiane province

By Meuangkham Noradeth & Kheuysomboun
March 20, 2013

Vietnamese researchers providing technical exchanges with that of Lao farmers.

Vietnamese researchers providing technical exchanges with that of Lao farmers.

The vast majority of villagers in the Longcheng focal group in Xaysomboun district, Vientiane province, are farmers so district officials are encouraging the cultivation of a variety crops and the raising of more livestock.

In Laos, 80 percent of the population work in agricultural production and live in rural areas so encouraging people to work in farming is an important factor in moving the country out of poverty by 2020 as targeted.

The Longcheng focal group comprise six villages that are home to 663 families and 3,675 people, said the Head of the group, Mr Bounpheng Phimphongsavanh.

He said people in this area have depended on farming and animal husbandry for their livelihood for many centuries, so growing more crops is important for boosting incomes and improving living standards.

Last fiscal year, the people of Xaysomboun district were affected by serious flooding, losing their crops and other property.

Provincial officials are working to restore and improve basic infrastructure as they seek to raise the living standards of local people step by step.

Mr Bounpheng said locals understand the government’s policy to develop the country and change lifestyles for the better so they are trying to improve their living standards by growing a wider variety of crops for sale and their own consumption.

But some people are still unaware of modern farming methods, so assistance is essential for them to increase the quality and quantity of crop yields.

Farmers in Xaysomboun district have had success with the commercial cultivation of cassava, oranges, chillies, cabbage, rubber, sweetcorn and rice. District officials are also encouraging more people in the community to become involved in animal husbandry, by raising cattle and poultry for sale and consumption.

Mr Bounpheng said crop yields in the Longcheng focal group are increasing year by year, so district officials are trying to identify markets for the produce.

The state-owned Nayoby Bank and Agriculture Development Bank are providing loans for people in the province to help them expand their farming operations, which is also helping to raise people out of poverty.

The Lao government defines poverty as not having enough food, lacking adequate clothing, not having permanent housing and lacking access to health, education and transportation services.

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Food security project reaps rewards in Vientiane province

February 16, 2013

Organic Farm located in Vang Vieng, a tourism-oriented town in Vientiane Province, Laos.

Organic Farm located in Vang Vieng, a tourism-oriented town in Vientiane Province, Laos.

Rice and other crops grown in Nam Houang village in Maed district, Vientiane province, are expected to improve in quality so that sufficient amounts can be grown for family consumption and market sale.

A project to promote food security has been carried out over the past five months by the Association for Improving Living Standards for Multi-ethnic People Adapted to Climate Change (AIMA), supported by the GEF Small Grant Programme of the United Nations Development Programme.

After getting under way in October, many of the project’s activities have proved successful and are well underway.

The objective of the project is to introduce new techniques to local farmers so they can grow organic rice and other crops such as morning glory, mint and sweetcorn.

If they can grow sufficient to sell they will be able to earn enough money so that they can give up slash and burn farming.

The project is also providing training on new and improved rice varieties, and how to make compost and bio-fertiliser.

If the people of Nam Houang village benefit from the project, the authorities hope to expand it to 33 more villages in the district and ultimately benefit about 26,000 people.

An irrigation dam costing 150 million kip is now being built and is about 75 percent complete. It is expected to supply water to about 10-15 hectares of farmland in the dry season, with later expansion to an area of about 30 hectares .

This irrigation system will help farmers to grow rice in the dry season as well as other crops for consumption and for sale in local markets.

Through the project, farmers in the village will learn how to grow rice and other crops organically and learn how to adapt to climate change.

In the past, most farmers in Nam Houang village have used traditional methods to grow vegetables and other cash crops and raise livestock after harvesting their rice. But they did not know about farming methods that produce better quality crops.

Village farmers also used a lot of chemicals when growing their crops to boost yields but were unaware of the risks to their health.

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First biogas plant in Laos activated

February 8, 2013

Biogas factory opening ceremony

The first biogas plant in Laos with a production capacity of 90 million normal cubic metres (Nm3), approximately at 175 million litres, of heavy fuel oil (HFO) has been opened this week.

Thai Biogas Energy Company (TBEC), a biogas developer in Thailand and Laos, have implemented the 130 million baht (about 33.8 billion kip) TBEC project for the Lao Indochina Group (LIG) Public Company. It is said to be the first industrial standard factory in Laos, which is able to treat waste water drained from the cassava flour factory of the company and transform it into energy.

The plant was financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France via the Monetary Institute for European Development and the Energy and Environment Partnership Program (EEP).

“This is the first biogas plant that is able to supply fuel for local consumption. This plant proves LIG is able to comply with environmentally friendly and environment protection requirements,” said Managing Director of TBEC, Mr. Gustaf Godenhielm. He said that the factory will help reduce as much as 300,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas per year and 60,000 tonnes of CO2 on an annual basis.

“We will use energy produced by the biogas plant to replace the use of lignite for drying up flour. This will help us reduce company spending and natural resources,” said General Director of LIG, Mr. Sengmaly Sengvatthana.

The opening ceremony of the plant was held on 5 February, drawing Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Mr Noulin Sinbandith, Vientiane Vice Mayor Anouphab Tunalom, and relevant officials.

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Families adjust to new life after losing homes to Theun-Hinboun dam expansion

January 20, 2013

Theun-Hinboun dam

“It’s more than two years since my family moved to make way for the Theun-Hinboun hydropower expansion project to this new location in Keosaenkham village. We are currently enjoying life here,” a village resident, Mr Xiengtay Xayphasy, told local media during a visit made to the site last week.

“We are happy to have electricity, new roads, a school, a health office and piped water. This is very different to our original village where we lived for so long.”

He said that children in particular have benefited because they now have more education opportunities and enjoy better health thanks to improved sanitation.

Women in the village also have the opportunity to access better health care and earn extra income from weaving and livestock breeding thanks to loans provided by the project .

Most of the people are slash-and-burn farmers who also raise livestock such as buffalo, cattle and poultry to make a living.

However, they still need more land on which to grow rice to ensure they can live comfortably and have sufficient rice for their future needs.

“After going through several training sessions and observing practices in other provinces supported by the hydropower project, I can now raise animals both for my family’s needs and to sell,” Mr Xiengtay said.

He has two daughters living with him, one of whom is benefiting by doing weaving after the project gave her a loan, while the other is a teacher at the local lower secondary school.

The first daughter, Ms Khamkeo Xayphasy 27, said weaving allows her to make enough money to pay for her children’s education and for the family to have some spending money.

As electricity provides light, she can weave at nighttime and, with good road access to the village, it is easy for traders to visit and buy her products at the house.

The other daughter, Ms Khao Xayphasy, 18, a village youth leader and teacher, said she will try to ensure that the children in the village get a better education than their parents so they can progress further and perhaps move from working on the land into some kind of business. She believes this will bring them a brighter future.

One elderly man, Mr Thone, 77, said that if his family were still living in their former village, his nephew and niece might never have the opportunity to study as they lived far from the nearest school.

But despite the new village having many facilities, the inhabitants are still limited in their cultivation of wet season rice and suffer from a shortage of water to grow vegetables in the dry season.

Construction of the Nam Gnouang dam has necessitated the relocation of 12 villages containing about 4,000 people in the Nam Gnouang valley. Keosaenkham village in Xaychamphone district, Borikhamxay province, has absorbed four of them, involving about 1,080 people in 181 households.

The Theun-Hinboun Hydropower Project Company says resettled families will have a better standard of living and sustainable livelihoods.

An entitlement policy outlines these obligations, which include improved housing on plots of 1,000 square metres for a vegetable garden, fruit trees, a small plot on which to raise livestock, one hectare of rice fields and half a hectare of upland fields on which to grow cash crops and trees.

Also mentioned in the policy are access to communal forests, grazing areas, a river and fish ponds, improved health and education services, all year road access to markets, and technical assistance, tools and equipment.

“For the first three years, the company provides rice for the relocated households to eat and gives them various varieties of rice seeds to plant, along with seeds to grow cash crops,” said Social and Environment Division Deputy Manager, Ms Surapha Viravong.

“After that we will continue to help them by promoting activities such as growing rice and cash crops, raising livestock for sale and consumption, and a conservation area programme to encourage sustainable development,” she added.

She expects that from now until 2017, the company will be instrumental in driving up family incomes to more than 17 million kip a year.

The company plans to relocate 13 more villages of over 1,000 families from the central area of the Nam Hinboun from 2013 to 2017.

From 2010 to 2012 it has relocated 11 villages of about 600 families, from the powerhouse area downstream and part of the Nam Hinboun.

The Theun-Hinboun Power Company has invested US$60 million into community resettlement, improving the environment and contributing to the development of education, public health and other facilities.

In addition, it has built village access roads and created jobs for many local people.

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Lao Short Film “A Little Change” – “ຕົ້ນກ້າ”

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EU helps MRC to tackle climate change in the Mekong

January 17, 2013

Representatives from the EU and MRC sign the aid agreement in Luang Prabang yesterday.

The European Union (EU) yesterday committed 4.95 million euros (over US$6 million) to the Mekong River Commission (MRC) to boost its efforts to respond to the region’s climate change challenges.

Representatives of the EU and the MRC signed the funding agreement in Luang Prabang yesterday on the sidelines of the 19th Mekong River Commission Council meeting.

Lao Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, Mr Noulin Sinbandhit, who chaired the meeting, representatives from MRC member countries and senior officials attended the event.

According to a media release from the MRC, the funding supports the Climate Change Adaption Initiative until 2015. It supports the MRC programme to assess the effects of change climate and integrate adaption planning at the regional, national and community levels.

The funding is a part of the Global Climate Change Alliance – an EU initiative to strengthen dialogue and cooperation with the nations most affected by climate change.

“The support of the EU underscores the importance of climate change in the development of the lower Mekong Basin. Adaption planning can better prepare the region for the challenges ahead, ensuring food security and alleviating poverty reduction,” MRC Chief Executive Officer Mr Hans Guttman said at the signing ceremony.

Rising temperatures, unpredictable rainfall and extreme weather events such as typhoons are increasing in frequency, leading to droughts and floods that destroy homes, infrastructure, livestock and crops. A predicted rise in sea level will increase salinity and floods in the Mekong Delta, causing damage to crops in the most productive area of the basin.

“This financial contribution reflects the EU’s long lasting commitment to leading efforts to address one of the most serious challenges facing mankind,” said Head of the EU Delegation to Laos, Ambassador David Lipman.

“The EU is pleased to be a part of MRC efforts in dealing with the possible effects of climate change on the environment and people in the region.

We believe the Climate Change Adaption Initiative offers a unique opportunity to develop a regional policy framework for collaborative action. Responding to the climate change impact requires action at the national level but also needs to be integrated within the basin wide development prospective,” he added.

The Global Climate Change Alliance also focuses on knowledge sharing and capacity building in the Mekong countries to protect communities and the biodiversity of the Mekong region in the face of changing climate and ecosystems.

With support from the EU together with other development partners, the initiative will provide training and exchange at the governmental and community levels to identify vulnerabilities and ways to tackle these challenges.

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Govt improves regional road links

December 26, 2012

Government officials and Duangdy Road and Bridge Construction Company representatives on Monday sign a road construction agreement in Pakxe district, Champassak province.

The government has authorised a lo cal company to rebuild two roads to connect districts in Champassak province with neighbouring countries, at a cost of more than US$100 million.

The project aims to improve the road network in southern Laos in a bid to promote trade, investment and tourism as well as boost development in rural areas.

A construction agreement was signed on Monday at the Champassak Grand Hotel in the province’s capital, Pakxe district, between representatives from the government and the Duangdy Road and Bridge Construction Company.

Representing the government were Champassak provincial Governor Mr Sonexay Siphandone, Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment Dr Khamlien Pholsena, Deputy Minister of Public Works and Transport Mr Bounchanh Sinthavong, and Deputy Minister of Finance Mr Santiphab Phomvihane.

Representing the company were Mr Odone Keoduangdy and Mr Khampadith Keoduangdy. Other officials from relevant sectors also attended the event.

The two roads to be upgraded are Road No. 14A and Road No. 14C. The project developer says construction will start soon and the job should be complete in 2014.

Road No. 14A starts in Soukhouma district and runs through Mounlapamok district in Champassak province to the Laos-Cambodia border. The rebuilt road will be 78km long and 9m wide.

Road No. 14C connects Mounlapamok district with Pakuay village in Soukhouma district and the Emerald Triangle, where Thailand, Laos and Cambodia meet, over a distance of more than 80km.

Currently, the two roads are unpaved and narrow, which hinders the transport of goods and travel between people in southern Laos and neighbouring countries.

When the new roads are completed, they will not only bring benefits to Champassak province but other provinces such as Xekong, Saravan, Attapeu, Savannakhet and Khammuan.

Champassak is set to become a transit province with easier road access, enabling better connections between the south of Laos and Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The project is part of government efforts to transform Laos from being a ‘landlocked’ country to a land link, and facilitate the transport of Lao goods to international markets.

The project reflects the value placed by the government on providing facilities for local people, to help them out of poverty by improving their livelihoods.

The new roads will help to improve transport between villages, districts and provinces, helping to boost social and economic development and enabling Laos to rise above least developed country status by the year 2020 as targeted.

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KOICA funds water supply for Khammuan communities

By Khamphone Syvongxay
December 24, 2012

Mr. Khambay Damlath (center) cuts a ribbon to open the new water supply in Xebangfay district, Khammuan province.

More than 7,000 people in central Xebangfay district, Khammuan province, and a village in Xaybouly district, Savanankhet province, now have running water thanks to the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA).

Construction of the water supply system is part of the Xebangfay Water Supply and Sanitation Project, which aims to bring clean water to residents in target areas.

The official handover ceremony last week was attended by the Resident Representative of the KOICA Office in Laos, Mr Kwon Young-Eui, and Khammuan provincial Governor, Mr Khambay Damlath, along with Lao government officials and provincial authorities.

The villages benefiting from the project are Khuaxe, Nong Bone, Beung Houana and Teung in Khammuan province, and Manilat in Savannakhet province.

The system is able to produce about 900 cubic metres of clean water a day, sufficient to meet the needs of local residents.

Construction of the water supply system by Phouthpaseuth Construction Company began in May last year and cost US$1.2 million.

In support of the project, KOICA provided funding of US$2 million, which included staff training.

KOICA will now help to build a drinking water factory in the area, which will result in a sharp decline in problems associated with health and sanitation through the prevention of waterborne diseases.

Khammuan comprises 10 districts, but only people living in the main towns in Thakhek, Nongbok, Xebangfay and Mahaxay districts have access to piped water.

The project is important for its contribution to the government’s poverty reduction plans in the province.

Thousands of people in remote areas of the province still use a bore well or rivers to obtain their cooking and drinking water, which puts them at risk of falling ill.

The government is trying to bring in more investment and is closely cooperating with international organisations to increase the number of people having access to clean water.

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National Assembly session closes with laws, national issues approved

By Somxay Sengdara
December 20, 2012

Party and government leaders, officials and National Assembly members attend the closing ceremony.

The fourth ordinary session of the National Assembly’s (NA) Seventh Legislature ended yesterday after approving seven amended and four new laws, national strategy plans and various projects.

The amended laws approved include those on Traffic, Land Transportation, Defence Obligations, Anti-Corruption, Environmental Protection, the Penal Code and Narcotic Drugs.

In the last two cases, the NA approved some articles that are related to each other, namely article no. 146 of the Penal Law and articles nos. 75 and 76 of the Law on Narcotic Drugs.

The new laws approved are those on the Securities Exchange, Irrigation, Electronic Transactions, and Multi-Transportation.

“The laws will be important tools in state and socio-economic management in the new era. They address new conditions in the economy, trade, and investment integration into the international community, as Laos becomes a member of the World Trade Organisation,” said NA President Ms Pany Yathortou when addressing the session’s closing ceremony.

The amendment of the Industrial Processing Law was also introduced for consideration. It aims to address all barriers and inappropriate measures and procedures relating to business operations in Laos.

The National Assembly did not approve the amendment but called on the relevant ministries and NA committees to take the comments of NA members into account for further improvement and to submit it for approval at the next session.

During the 12-day session, the National Assembly raised support for other important national issues such as the National Strategy on Health Reform, the Kaleum district relocation project in Xekong province, the Xayaboury dam, and ratification of Laos’ accession to the World Trade Organisation.

The NA praised the success of the bi-election of an NA member for Khammuan province, which resulted in full membership being maintained.

Regarding health reform strategy, the session praised the government for enhancing the participation of local administration at all levels and people of all strata in working towards the health sector targets outlined in the Resolution of the ninth Party Congress and the seventh National Socio-Economic Development Plan.

The National Assembly also voiced its appreciation of the efforts made by the government over the past 15 years in the negotiations for WTO membership, along with the improvement of many pieces of legislation which led to Laos’ application being approved.

The session also heard a report on the performance of the NA Standing Committee over the period from the third to the fourth sessions as well as plans for next year.

Of particular note was the hosting of the Seventh Asia-Europe Parliamentarian Partnership meeting, which helped to raise the profile of the Lao National Assembly and Laos within the international community.

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