Laos ( ), officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR or LPDR), is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia. At the heart of the Indochinese Peninsula, Laos is bordered by Myanmar and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the southeast, and Thailand to the west and southwest. Its capital and largest city is Vientiane.
Present-day Laos traces its historic and cultural identity to Lan Xang, which existed from the 13th century to the 18th century as one of the largest kingdoms in Southeast Asia. Because of its central geographical location in Southeast Asia, the kingdom became a hub for overland trade and became wealthy economically and culturally. After a period of internal conflict, Lan Xang broke into three separate kingdoms: Luang Phrabang, Vientiane and Champasak. In 1893, the three kingdoms came under a French protectorate and were united to form what is now known as Laos. It was occupied by Japan during World War II and briefly gained independence in 1945 as a Japanese puppet state but was re-colonised by France until it won autonomy in 1949. Laos became independent in 1953 as the Kingdom of Laos, with a constitutional monarchy under Sisavang Vong. A civil war began in 1959, which saw the communist Pathet Lao, supported by North Vietnam and the Soviet Union, fight against the Royal Lao Armed Forces, supported by the United States. After the Vietnam War ended in 1975, the Lao People's Revolutionary Party came to power, ending the civil war and the monarchy. Laos was then dependent on military and economic aid from the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991.
Trees, woodland and forest[edit | edit source]
Deforestation in Laos is a major environmental concern, with Laos losing forest area to legal and illegal logging.
Wetlands[edit | edit source]
Mekong[edit | edit source]
The Mekong or Mekong River is a trans-boundary river in East Asia and Southeast Asia. It is the world's twelfth-longest river and the third-longest in Asia with an estimated length of 4,909 km (3,050 mi) and a drainage area of 795,000 km2 (307,000 sq mi), discharging 475 km3 (114 cu mi) of water annually.From its headwaters in the Tibetan Plateau, the river runs through Southwest China (where it is officially called the Lancang River), Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and southern Vietnam. The extreme seasonal variations in flow and the presence of rapids and waterfalls in the Mekong make navigation difficult. Even so, the river is a major trade route between Tibet and Southeast Asia. The construction of hydroelectric dams along the Mekong in the 2000s through the 2020s causes serious problems for the river's ecosystem, including the exacerbation of drought.
Drought linked to a changing climate and dozens of hydroelectric dams are damaging the Mekong ecosystem. When drought ends and the inevitable floods begin, the effects of Mekong dams on flood pulse dynamics over the entire Lower Mekong are poorly understood.
Sewage treatment is rudimentary in towns and urban areas throughout much of the Mekong's length, such as Vientiane in Laos. Water pollution impacts the river's ecological integrity as a result.
Much of the 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic present on earth makes its way to the oceans. Ninety percent of plastic in the oceans is flushed there by just 10 rivers. The Mekong is one of them.
A growing number of academics, NGOs, and scientists have urged the international community and the Mekong River Commission to reduce the use of hydropower, giving concerns of long-term sustainability. Some of them have urged an immediate moratorium on new construction of hydropower projects and a shift to solar and other forms of renewable energy, which are becoming more competitive and faster to install.
The continual development of Hydropower has positive effects such as flood control, irrigation, and river navigation; conversely, the development of Hydropower plants can negatively affect the 3 million Laotians relying on the Mekong for livelihood and food security. With dams blocking the migration of fish, many communities will experience a loss of fish population. Over the last few years, the development of hydropower dams have caused a 10-20% population loss while during a period of 2001–2003, the Thai-Lao border showcased a 50% catch decrease, greatly affecting local communities and their livelihood. With the hydrology of the Lower Mekong forcefully altered, agricultural lands will experience a new river regime—variability in its discharge—that can negatively affect farms. The most notable change for the population near the Mekong is the loss of agricultural land due to flooding from hydropower dams. Flooding can cause a loss of crop, productivity, livestock. With an increase of floods near agricultural land there can be a loss of nutrition, an input to the productivity of nearby agriculture.
The rural communities of a riparian country like Laos rely heavily on fishing for food security. Hydropower development affecting the migration of fish and productivity of fisheries are a great threat to food security. Local communities are not the ones impacted, a study done by the Mekong River Commission showcased, "Fisheries do not only benefit the people living next to the river or the floodplains, but all of the Lower Mekong Basin countries." Hydropower development indirectly impacts human development on many scales.
Sustainable transport[edit | edit source]
About 4,587 kilometres (2,850 mi) of navigable water routes exist in Laos, primarily the Mekong and its tributaries. There are an additional 2,897 kilometres (1,800 mi) of water routes, which is sectionally navigable by craft drawing less than 0.5 metres (1 ft 8 in).
News and comment[edit | edit source]
- Sunlabob Rural Energy Ltd., set up in 2001, is bringing energy to remote rural communities in Lao PDR, a country where just 48 per cent of the population has access to grid electricity, mostly in cities and town. Through Sunlabob, over 1,800 solar-home-systems (SHS) and 500 solar lanterns are being rented to families in 73 different villages across Lao PDR.
- In an area where most people rely on highly polluting kerosene lamps, the initiative rents out solar lighting at a lower price than kerosene, providing families with a real incentive to switch to the cleaner energy. The cheapest solar systems costs 35,000 kip per month (3.80$) to rent, while households typically spend 36,000 to 60,000 kip per month (4 to 6.60$) on kerosene for lighting. As well as being far less sustainable than solar energy, kerosene lamps can be dangerous, causing burns, starting fires and polluting the air indoors.
- The equipment is rented through Village Energy Committees (VEC) selected by the whole community: this puts the community in control of setting prices, collecting rents and performing basic maintenance.
The potential for growth in the use of solar PV in Lao PDR is huge: Sunlabob is installing systems at a rate of 500 per year, and a new investment in 2008 will allow it to scale up to 2,500 systems per year, and 5,000 per year after that. The project is also highly replicable: Sunlabob is already starting work in Cambodia and Indonesia, and is exploring possibilities with interested potential partners in Bhutan, East Timor, Eastern Africa and Latin America.
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