Electrification and Energy Expansion
Laos, which many know as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, sharing borders with Thailand, China, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam. While Laos is one of the most impoverished countries in the region, its economy has significantly increased in the last 20 years, so much so that, in 2011, the World Bank upgraded the Lao PDR to lower-middle-income status. However, in terms of energy, not all citizens have access to electricity. The country has had difficulty expanding the energy sector due to factors such as “inaccessible terrain,” unexploded ordinances spread throughout the country, especially throughout rural areas, with some of those areas being more difficult to reach and some provinces having low economic growth compared to others. While expansion in the energy sector proves difficult, the Lao PDR has made a commitment to electrification and energy expansion in Laos to allow all its citizens to have access to electricity, especially as various organizations offer suggestions and plans for Laos to reach its energy goals.

The Current Situation

While the use of hydropower has helped Laos electrify the nation, increasing electrification rates from 15% in 1995 to 90% in 2019, around 5% of citizens still do not have access due to remote terrain locations that makes grid expansion difficult. Around 80.3% of rural areas and 97.4% of urban areas have access to electricity as of 2018. In response, the Lao PDR has an overall goal of enabling electricity access for a minimum of 98% of the overall population by 2030.

Observations and Recommendations by Organizations

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), “in 2019, 80% of all [Laos’] electricity generation came from hydropower.” The CSIS recommends that the nation diversify its energy mix “beyond hydropower,” suggesting that Laos expands into non-hydro renewable energy due to its geographic advantage “for solar photovoltaic, wind and biomass energy” and especially as prices in the sector have diminished over the years.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recognizes that Laos has the potential to develop solar power, especially when many parts of the country are exposed to direct sunlight during the dry season. This would potentially “increase the share of non-hydro renewable energies to 30% of total consumption by 2025.” More than 18,657 households have access to small solar power systems as of 2017 and the Lao PDR has started several larger projects to expand access to solar power systems.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in partnership with USAID suggests that electrification and energy expansion in Laos through alternative renewable energies can help the country reach its import demands, which would allow Laos to rely less on other countries for electricity. By expanding in renewable energy sources, Laos can “increase electricity exports to regional neighbors to become the ‘battery’ of Southeast Asia” while also meeting domestic demands.

Plans for Electrification and Energy Expansion in Laos

In Laos, around 50 dams underwent construction as of 2020, a process that will allow more access to electricity for citizens. However, while hydropower from dams will provide more access to electricity, this strategy proves controversial, especially with environmental concerns and communities relying on rivers such as the Mekong to live.

In the search for alternative solutions, Laos is in negotiation with the Thai company Impact Energy Asia to build a 600-megawatt wind farm and have it complete by 2023. By developing the energy sector to become “affordable, inclusive and sustainable” while focusing on socio-economic development, the country can move toward achieving its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

USAID programs such as the LUNA II Project, implemented from March 2014 through September 2018, help to “promote more sustainable economic policies and a more balanced energy sector” in Laos. The project largely focuses on establishing “trade liberalization” for Lao and “trade capacity building” in both public and private sectors, which will allow improvement of trade and investment. This should allow Laos to expand into alternative, sustainable and renewable energy sources.

Looking Forward

While Laos has made improvements in access to electricity and other resources for the citizenry, this work has not yet reached completion. Fortunately, through suggestions from various organizations and their data collection, Laos is able to offer plans to reach more Laotians. The country stepping up to reach its goals for electrification and energy expansion in Laos will allow the nation to achieve its 2030 energy goals.

– Jerrett Phinney
Photo: Flickr

Waste Management
Laos, known as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, is one of the most impoverished countries in Southeast Asia. However, over the last 20 years, its economy has been one of the fastest-growing in the region, resulting in an increase in the amount of waste generated. Waste management systems struggle to keep up with this increased waste. Waste management in Laos is “limited to urban centers” and tends to be poorly managed with just 40%-60% of waste collected. Pollution affects the Lao people negatively, resulting in around 10,000 deaths per year, according to a 2021 study by the World Bank. With waste management emerging as a dire issue, the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) are offering support to address the issue.

The Larger Part of the Issue

Around four million tonnes of plastic waste discharges into the world’s seas annually, mostly originating from rivers in Asia such as the Mekong, which goes through Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. About 70 million people rely on this river for food and resources, especially in Laos, though it is “one of the dirtiest in the world.” The Laotian lifestyle is transitioning from a “traditional and subsistence-based lifestyle” to a more urban lifestyle that focuses more on consumerism and imported goods.

The lack of waste dump sites and formal infrastructure significantly and directly impacts the health of citizens, especially when resorting to disposal practices such as burning, burying trash and discarding waste in rivers. Testing of the water sources across more than 3,000 households in Laos shows that  E.Coli in drinking water contaminated 86% of the household population. Furthermore, even for homes using bottled water, a staggering 85% of individuals had E. Coli in their bottled water.

Making the Effort

Laos citizens view plastics as a luxury item, portraying a sign of economic progression. However, this mindset also contributes to plastics becoming the second-largest type of waste, accounting for up to 24% of total waste generated by Laos. But, even as plastic and other wastes are prevalent, cities such as Luang Prabang are making an effort to keep the area’s streets clean. With the locals taking action to actively keep the city clean, these city-dwellers set the example for other city-dwellers in Laos. Responsibility is on communities and households, especially as Laos has a small budget for addressing the waste management issue.

A World Bank 2022 Get CLEAN and GREEN – Solid waste and Plastic Management in Lao PDR report recommends strategies to resolve the waste management issue. One strategy is to move from a linear to a “circular economy.” This would reduce waste by “reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products.”

The UNDP’s Work

The UNDP gathered a focus group of around 30 university students from diverse economic backgrounds, finding that close to 90% of students realize how poor waste management impacts the planet. The organization gave students suggestions for taking action, such as establishing task forces in communities and using social media to share information on helping as green advocates.

The UNDP also found that students who learned to separate waste in schools were eager to follow waste separation procedures. An online UNDP survey shows that social media would influence the mindsets and behaviors of more than 80% of respondents. The UNDP considers the immediate banning of plastic as critical.

The GGGI is aiding in solid waste management in the capital city of Vientiane, formulating a 10-year Strategy and Action Plan. It also has created four project activities:

  • Decentralized garbage collection services
  • A Waste Bank and the designation of the role of waste pickers
  • Organic waste segregation systems and private composting companies
  • Glass recycling involving 10 elementary schools to maximize waste disposal

Looking Ahead

While the Lao PDR transitions to a more urban economy and struggles with waste, organizations have offered solutions to support a more sanitary Laos, which will benefit the health and well-being of people. As education reaches citizens and offers them pathways out of poverty, Laos can create a safer, cleaner and more prosperous country for its populace. And if the country does lean more toward a “circular economy,” Laos could be on its way to reaching a net carbon neutral status by 2040.

Jerrett Phinney
Photo: Flickr

Maternal Mortality LaosIt is hard to imagine how giving birth can be fatal to so many women around the world. However, even in 2021, maternal mortality remains a significant issue, especially in developing countries where modern medicine is scarce and medical facilities are not easily accessible. Fortunately, these maternal mortality rates have been dropping all over the world, especially in Laos.

Birth Complications in Laos

Laos, or Lao People’s Democratic Republic, is a landlocked nation between Thailand and Vietnam. With a population of 7.2 million, the country suffers from a declining fertility rate. In 2020, women in Laos had an average of 2.7 children, yet this rate was more than doubled just 30 years ago. In addition to infertility, women in Laos are at a greater risk for birth complications. According to the U.N., a mother’s risk of dying in Laos due to delivery and post-delivery complications is one in 150. This number is especially alarming when compared to statistics in Europe, where a woman’s risk of death is one in 3,400.

Declining Maternal Mortality Rates

Since the turn of the millennium, maternal mortality rates have dropped significantly all over the world due to the spread of modern medicine. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the maternal mortality ratio dropped by approximately 38% worldwide in less than 20 years. Similar encouraging statistics are emerging from Laos. Eksavang Vongvichit, the nation’s former health minister, discusses Laos’s progress in tackling this issue: “We’re in third place worldwide in terms of bringing down the maternal mortality rate… We’ve brought down the number of maternal deaths from 450 out of 100,000 live births down to 220.”

The Ongoing Fight Against Maternal Mortality in Laos

Maternal mortality is a more frequent reality in developing countries. On average, women in low-to-middle-income countries more likely to die during or immediately after pregnancy than women in developed nations. This is largely because many birth-related deaths result from easily preventable causes, including severe bleeding, infections, high blood pressure, complications from delivery and unsafe abortions.

To prevent such avoidable deaths, numerous charities and NGOs are working on better educating reproductive healthcare workers in developing nations. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is a prime example of this work, being stationed in Laos and other developing nations all over the globe. In Laos, the program helped the Ministry of Health create better training programs for volunteers and midwives in reproductive care. This education includes bringing awareness to mothers about proper family planning, which covers how long to space out pregnancies and prevent undesired pregnancies. Not only will such education prevent unnecessary fatalities, but it will also aid families in properly planning for the future to break the cycle of poverty.

With the continued implementation of modern medicine and reproductive education in developing countries, there is great hope that the rate of maternal deaths will continue to decline in Laos.

– Amanda J. Godfrey
Photo: Unsplash

Sustainable Agriculture in LaosThanks to improvements in infrastructure and energy generation, as well as growth in its mining and tourism industries, economic growth continues in the landlocked nation of Laos, population 6.7 million. As development continues, however, inefficient land use and deforestation threaten the country’s agriculture sector and rural regions. Improved planning for sustainable agriculture in Laos is needed.

The variable terrain and geographical features of Laos, officially the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, make the region susceptible to natural hazards. High mountains, low valleys, rivers and wind all contribute to floods, typhoons and inconsistent weather patterns. Dense forests have played a vital role in combating impacts of extreme weather as they protect slopes and banks. But as forests are logged for increased production, the ecosystem is becoming more vulnerable to weather and climate effects. In turn, sustainable agriculture in Laos is constantly challenged by the nation’s actions.

With aid, the government of Laos is working to improve current land-use practices, as well as repair the damage done thus far.


Laos and the United Nations Development Program

Under the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Climate Change Adaptation initiative, the Advancing Cross-Sectoral Climate Resilient Livelihoods program specifically addresses the dilemma of one sector’s progress affecting the development of another.  The program works toward economic diversity, climate-resilient technologies and climate-resilient social protection.

Another specific goal of the program is policy revision and improvement in land use planning. After extensive analysis of flood and drought-prone areas in different Laotian provinces, the program intends for collaboration among more than 100 planners from national to local levels in generating new practices in land use plans.


Laos and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Maintaining focus on agriculture and farming practices, the government and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations developed a Country Programme Framework (CPF) for the nation, outlining plans to achieve sustainable agriculture in Laos with four projected outcomes:

  • Fostering agricultural production and rural development
  • Improving food security and nutrition, with special focus on the vulnerable (poor women and food-insecure farm households)
  • Protecting and enhancing forests and other ecosystems
  • Improving capacity to respond to food and agricultural threats and emergencies and the impact of climate change

Each projected outcome of the CPF for agriculture features multiple projects led by multiple partners, all working to attain the set goal.

For true progress, each sector of an economy requires alignment of its successes with the other. Through aid, collaboration, resilience and a desire for unity, sustainable agriculture in Laos will be achieved.

– Jaymie Greenway

Photo: Flickr

infrastructure in LaosThe importance of infrastructure means road and transport connectivity, telecommunications, housing and education as sources of economic development. With these basic essentials, the economy of a country opens to the world, bringing capital and improving quality of life.

Laos is one of the fastest-growing economies in Southeast Asia, with natural resources accounting for a third of the growth. Power infrastructure in Laos is under development, according to the Department of Energy Business. Two-thirds of the population in Laos has access to electricity, and the power sector is working towards sustainability and energy efficiency. By promoting sustainable power, natural resources are preserved.

The Lao government plans to establish hydropower as a source of energy for the country and export electricity to neighboring countries who are in need of electric power. The government hopes that by 2020, hydropower as an infrastructure in Laos will provide profits to combat poverty within the country.

Telecommunications as an infrastructure in Laos is another necessity that needs to be addressed. The National Academic of Sciences and Engineering Medicine wrote of the importance of telecommunication as a foundation for social and economic development as well as a vital groundwork for national security.

Telecommunication as an infrastructure in Laos is slowly gaining momentum. Laos has seen countless reforms and progress of telecommunications as an infrastructure to draw the attention of foreign investors. However, internet services have been slow, a concern that many Laotians see as a deterrent to social and economic development. Fortunately, progress is expected to continue to 2022.

In 2017, infrastructure in Laos continued to improve. The Ministry of Finance and the World Bank signed a $25 million agreement to stabilize roads through maintenance. The Lao PDR Road Sector II Project is meant to improve road infrastructure for efficiency and safety. Once roads are stabilized around Laos, rural people will be able to find safety in regards to severe weather and will not have to travel on unsafe roads.

Infrastructure in Laos is slowly making progress and providing efficient and maintained infrastructure to improve its citizens’ quality of life. These efforts will have an enormous effect on alleviating poverty and growing prosperity in the country.

– Jennifer Serrato

Photo: Flickr

infrastructure in laosLaos is completely landlocked, with Vietnam standing between the small country and the Gulf of Tonkin. As a result, road transport is an essential form of transportation and the only means of improving economic development through infrastructure.

Unfortunately, road infrastructure in Laos is limited, underdeveloped and particularly vulnerable to extreme weather conditions. According to the World Bank, 50 percent of the roads observed were in fair or good condition and only 56 percent of the rural population in Laos has access to an all-season road.

In 2017, The World Bank and Laos Ministry of Finance signed an agreement to dedicate $25 million to the Second Road Sector Project in Laos, which is mainly designed to create climate-resistant road infrastructure and to improve road connectivity in parts of Laos that are susceptible to natural disasters.

As a country, Laos is no stranger to natural disasters such as landslides, floods, earthquakes and cyclones. For villagers in rural areas, floods are the biggest detriment to crops, which are not only a source of income but also a source of sustenance for many farm families.

The six provinces at the center of the Second Road Sector Project are particularly defenseless in the wake of natural disasters. The central provinces face issues with backwater flooding while the northern provinces are most susceptible to flash floods and landslides.

Ensuring climate resilience in these provincial roads involves routine road maintenance. Spot maintenance is also needed to improve the poorest sections of existing road infrastructure in Laos.

These maintenance changes include increasing drainage, decreasing or stabilizing large slopes, elevating low roads that are vulnerable to flooding and re-graveling existing roads. The upgrades aim to lessen the effects of different forms of flooding and will help maintain the accessibility of more roads following natural disasters so that people in the most rural areas may attend work and school and have access to important services.

On the institutional level, the project called for critical changes in policy and the public sector, such as providing training and technical assistance which ensure proper and timely implementation of the roadwork projects. In the case of the highly probable natural disaster, project proceeds are re-allocated to an emergency response for the poor northern and central provinces. The emergency response includes a specified list of goods, services and infrastructure work that are to be implemented following a natural disaster.

While the project was only implemented a year ago, the World Bank and the Lao Ministry of finance have made tangible steps toward progress. By October 2017, the World Bank collected a large amount of data on the conditions of road infrastructure in Laos and the climate-resilient road maintenance component is already in motion, making certain parts of Laos better prepared than they were in 2016 for the next flash flood or earthquake. The World Bank projects that these changes will give 57 percent of people access to all-season roads by 2022 with the hope that this number will continue to increase.

– Danielle Poindexter

Photo: Flickr

Elimination of Trachoma in Cambodia and Lao PDR

Cambodia and Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) recently eliminated trachoma as a public threat. Through the creation of the Alliance for Global Elimination of Trachoma by the year 2020 (GET2020) by the World Health Organization (WHO), these countries were able to improve their strategies for diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

Trachoma is a disease that affects the eye and is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. Trachoma spreads through physical contact via discharge of the nose or eyes of an infected individual. Progression or repeated infection of this disease can lead to permanent damage to the cornea and blindness.

Trachoma is a disease that is closely linked to poor hygiene and sanitation conditions. Other environmental factors that contribute to the spread of trachoma include water shortages and crowded living spaces. As of now, trachoma affects 41 countries in the poorest parts of the world.

Through GET2020, the WHO and other organizations use the SAFE strategy to ensure the elimination of trachoma. According to the WHO, the SAFE strategy includes “surgery for trichiasis, antibiotics to treat active infection, facial cleanliness and environmental improvements to limit transmission.”

Since 2000, Cambodia and Lao PDR have worked to implement better treatment for trachoma, as well as increase health education to prevent the spread of trachoma. Furthermore, over the past decade, socioeconomic conditions have improved and the birth rate has decreased. All these efforts have led to better conditions to avoid the spread of trachoma.

The elimination of trachoma as a public health threat does not necessarily mean that the disease is eradicated from the countries. It does, however, show a significant improvement in the standard of living and health conditions in both of these countries.

In order for the WHO to consider trachoma to be eliminated as a public health threat, certain numbers must be seen across the board. According to the WHO website, “less than 5 percent of children aged 1-9 [should] have signs of active trachoma, less than 0.2 percent of people over 15 years have a more advanced form of the disease…and their health systems can identify and manage new cases[.]”

While only three of the 41 affected countries have eliminated trachoma as a public health threat, Cambodia and Lao PDR have paved a path for other countries to follow suit. Through the help of the WHO and other affiliated organizations, the elimination of trachoma as a public health threat can continue.

Rebekah Covey

Photo: Flickr